The staff of Top Rope Press put our collective heads together over the past couple of weeks to come up with the best that 2016 had to offer. When it came down to what was the best pro wrestling event in 2016, NJPW’s WrestleKingdom 10 won hands down.
WrestleKingdom is the biggest NJPW show of the year, and the promotion holds it every year on January 4th at The Tokyo Dome. Last year’s show was significant in more ways than one, because it marked the final big show a lot of NJPW’s top names would appear on before shocking the world of wrestling and leaving for the WWE.
From the preshow match to the main event, WrestleKingdom 10 was an incredible, endlessly entertaining 5+ hour show. Yes, that seems long, but NJPW has a way of making their big shows flow so well that you don’t even bother to look at a clock.
The show kicked off with the traditional New Japan Rumble, where we saw Japanese legends like Fujiwara and The Great Kabuki in the ring with beloved new stars like ROH’s Cheeseburger and surprise entrants like King Haku. This battle royal always kicks off WrestleKingdom, and it’s a hoot. For some reason, Jado ended up winning, and for the life of me, I don’t know why.
The show would go on to feature The Young Bucks regaining the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in an amazing Fatal Four Way, the crowning of the inaugural NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions, and the Ring Of Honor World Title being defended when Jay Lethal faced Michael Elgin. Kenny Omega lost the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to KUSHIDA, graduating from a junior to a heavyweight, and GBH defeated Anderson and Gallows for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles.
Hirooki Goto and Tetsuya Naito faced off, and Los Ingobernables de Japon made their presence felt. Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii fought it out for the NEVER Openweight Title in one of the most beautifully brutal matches of the show.
Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles would face off for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in what turned into our Match Of The Year. The two men had one of the most incredible matches I have ever seen, and by the time it happened, we knew that Styles was leaving the promotion. We also knew that there were rumblings that Nakamura was not going to renew his contract. At the time, that news made truly made this a dream match and what we thought we’d only see once.
In the main event, Kazuchika Okada defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tana had won the 2016 G1 Climax tournament, and Okada was looking to prove that he could beat Tana after leaving WrestleKingdom 9 in tears after losing to him in 2015. In an almost 45 minute match that saw both men exhausted beyond belief, Okada defeated Tanahashi to retain his championship and Tana seemingly passed the torch to the next generation’s Ace.
There was honestly nothing bad on this show (except for Jado winning the Rambo). It was so well thought out, and the stories that were told through the action in the ring were brilliant. No matter what else NJPW does during the year, they always kick it off right with WrestleKingdom.
WrestleKingdom 10 won Event Of The Year with good reason, but it wasn’t the only incredible wrestling show of 2016. The two runners up were pretty amazing, too.
Runner-Up #1: NXT TakeOver: Dallas
NXT TakeOver: Dallas took second place for so many reasons. Obviously, the debut of Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE was the big story coming out of this show, and he and Sami Zayn put on one of the best matches the wrestling world saw in 2016. Nakamura, who we never thought we’d see in WWE, made his presence felt with his overwhelming charisma and strong style in-ring ability, and the WWE Universe fell in love.
The show also saw the ascension of Asuka to the top of NXT’s Women’s Division. She and Bayley faced off for the NXT Women’s Title, and Asuka took the championship from NXT’s sweetheart. She has held the title ever since, and there’s been no one that can seem to stop her.
The Revival captured tag team gold when they defeated American Alpha for the NXT Tag Team Titles, and Austin Aries had his first match in NXT, defeating Baron Corbin.
In the main event, which turned out to be a bit disappointing, Finn Bálor retained his NXT Title by defeating Samoa Joe. The reason I say it was disappointing is because the flow of the bout was completely destroyed by Samoa Joe getting busted open early on and WWE doctors coming in to stop the action to check on him umpteen times. No one was happy about that. It really destroyed what could have been a really good match.
Despite the issues during the main event, NXT TakeOver: Dallas was the best show of WWE’s WrestleMania 32 weekend. It easily outshone Mania itself, and it saw the debut of new headliners for the brand and final matches for some stars that would head up to the main roster.
Runner-Up #2: The WWE Cruiserweight Classic
In something many thought we’d never see in WWE, the promotion brought together some of the best cruiserweights in the world of professional wrestling to put on the Cruiserweight Classic. The tournament ran from June to September, and needless to say, it was a wild success.
The tournament kicked off with 32 top stars from around the world, and it produced some amazing matches. One of the best of the entire tournament was Kota Ibushi facing off against Cedric Alexander. The match would see Alexander lose, but his performance basically guaranteed him a WWE contract.
With international stars like Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr, Akira Tozawa, Gran Metalik, and Noam Dar joining indie favorites Johnny Gargano, TJ Perkins, and Tommaso Ciampa and returning favorites like Brian Kendrick and Tajari, this tournament was one of the highlights of wrestling in 2016. It would give birth to a new division in WWE and a new championship.
TJ Perkins outlasted everyone and became the WWE Cruiserweight Champion. The Cruiserweight Division would go on to debut on RAW and eventually get their own show on WWE Network in 205 Live. Competitors from the CWC would get WWE contracts, and amazingly talented wrestlers from across the globe would have the opportunity to compete on pro wrestling’s biggest stage.