As much as wrestling is built on wrestling, what really matters the most are the moments that come to define wrestling. The little pieces of a match or a show are what will be put on highlight reels and designed to last forever. How many times have you heard about the Wrestlemania moment being what matters almost more than the match results themselves? Every year has a list of special things to see and today we’re looking at the moments of the year. As always, these are in no particular order.
1. New Day Breaks Demolition’s Record – Monday Night Raw – December 12
We’ll start with the most recent moment as one of the longest standing record title reigns came to an end. Originally set in 1989, Demolition had held the record for the longest Tag Team Title reign in WWE history (assuming you ignore the Women’s Tag Team Titles of the late 1980s) and it had seemed almost unapproachable. However, about halfway through the year, it became clear that New Day might actually have a shot at it.
New Day won the Tag Team Titles at “Summerslam 2015” and managed to hold onto them for over a year, putting them just a few months away from the record. With just a few weeks to go, New Day had one team after another thrown at them with a final triple threat match left between them and the record. New Day survived that title defense and then a second announced during the show, leaving them with the new record in a great show of emotion.
This is one of the moments that is more historic than anything else. The idea of someone breaking a record that was set the better part of thirty years ago seems almost unthinkable anymore but New Day managed to pull it off. The smiles on all three members’ faces showed you everything you needed to know about the moment and the team surviving was exactly what it needed to be.
2. AJ Styles Debuts – Royal Rumble
Since the debut of TNA in 2002, Styles was one of the biggest names to never work for WWE full time. Early in 2016, that changed forever as Styles debuted for the company as the #3 entrant in the Royal Rumble. This was the kind of thing that the Royal Rumble is made for and it became one of the best debuts ever in the history of the event.
Now that being said, WWE almost managed to screw this up. If you notice in the video, we don’t actually see Styles make his debut as the camera is locked in on Roman Reigns. You can hear the fans’ reactions but for the life of me I don’t know why we need to see Reigns at this point. Thankfully WWE released a slightly edited version of the video which shows the reason the crowd reacted.
Styles lasted nearly half an hour in the match but the bigger story here was the debut itself. This was one of the few dream signings left in the wrestling world and everyone knew what was coming as soon as Styles stepped through the curtain. The crowd knew what was coming and it helped that Styles wound up more than living up to the hype, but it was the entrance that really made it work in the first place.
3. Dean Ambrose Cashes in – Money in the Bank
dThis is one of those ideas that is done too often but when it works, it works to perfection. That’s what we had here as Ambrose became the second Money in the Bank winner ever to cash in on the same night (along with Kane in 2010). It was also a way to tie it back into the previous year when Seth Rollins defeated Ambrose at the exact same show, meaning Ambrose was finally back to even with his former Shield teammate.
The idea of someone cashing in on the same night that they win the Money in the Bank briefcase is something that is teased every single year but almost never winds up happening. Ambrose is the kind of crazy man who fits the idea of cashing in on the same day because you just can’t predict what someone like him is going to do.
The Shield is another important part to this story as Ambrose cashed in on Rollins, who had just won the title from Reigns. In other words, in the span of about five minutes, all three Shield members held the WWE World Title. That’s not bad for the same night and is something that is almost never going to be topped.
4. Goldberg Squashes Brock Lesnar – Survivor Series
Over a month has passed since this one happened and I’m still not sure what to think about it. Goldberg defeated Lesnar in less than ninety seconds, handing Lesnar his first pinfall loss in over three years. It was an old school Goldberg squash and I don’t think that’s what anyone expected. This is one of those things where there are going to be different opinions on it no matter what but it was certainly something that got people talking.
Lesnar had been the most dominant force in wrestling for a very long time and he just loses in less than a minute and a half. While some people could have seen Goldberg winning the match, the idea that the match would actually happen this way was borderline unthinkable. I remember it flashing in my mind as soon as the first spear hit but then it immediately left my head. By the time I knew what had happened, Goldberg’s music was playing again.
This is something that is a once in a generation idea but it certainly worked at the time. I’m almost sure we’ll see them fight again in a much longer match but there’s almost no way it’s going to live up to this one. I still don’t think it was the right call and would have had someone actually on the regular roster be the one to take down Goldberg but I will certainly never forget this one or how much I lost my mind as soon as the match ended.
5. Shane McMahon Returns – Monday Night Raw – February 22
Now this one is all shock value because everything after it was kind of a mess. McMahon hadn’t been seen since 2009 and he was one of the last names you would ever expect to actually show up again. Depending on who you believe, this was the replacement for an injured John Cena as McMahon would go on to face the Undertaker at “Wrestlemania XXXII”.
So in other words, we had not only a huge return but the returning star now has a big match set up. It’s a rare moment where the fans were somewhat worried about who might be coming through the curtain but no one expected it to actually be McMahon himself. Despite being in his mid-40s, the fans ate up the idea that he was back and standing up to his father for everyone else.
Watching all the WWE wrestling offered every single week often numbs you to surprises because either A, you’ve heard the rumors in advance or B, you can pretty much guess what’s going to happen. This was a rare instance where the necessity met the surprise and everything wound up working as well as it could have. That doesn’t happen often and it’s one of the best moments of the year.
6. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Main Event “Hell in a Cell 2016” – Hell in a Cell
This is one that really could have been a double entry as the fact that the women were even inside the Cell in the first place was historic enough. However, as soon as Rollins and Kevin Owens started their match, it was clear that we were in for something that had never been seen before in wrestling: women main eventing a major pay per view event.
As has been the case with so many of the milestones involved in the women’s revolution, this is something where you have to consider where things were just a few years ago. A few years back, it was reasonable to expect the women to get five minutes on a pay per view if they were lucky that month. The idea of the match being even remotely entertaining on top of that was just a bonus.
The match was immaterial compared to the fact that it was taking place though. What should have been a pretty nothing card wound up being something that had been built up for the last year plus and was finally being paid off by what was little more than a pipe dream beforehand. Banks and Charlotte are the first women to ever do something like this and hopefully they won’t be the last. It happened once though and that’s what makes it matter.
7. Shane McMahon’s Cell Dive – Wrestlemania XXXII
It’s rare to have a moment that works both as an homage to a more famous moment and as a moment all on its own. While a lot of people (myself certainly included) weren’t happy with Shane being on the show in such a high profile match, it’s safe to say that this made up for a little bit of it.
With nothing else working against the Undertaker (because Shane McMahon needed to get in offense on the Undertaker), Shane knocked him onto the announcers’ table, climbed the Cell, and dropped a huge elbow….which completely missed as Undertaker moved away. Ignoring what looked to be a crash pad underneath the table (thank goodness), this was one of the scariest bumps in years around WWE.
This was one of those moments that just worked based on what it was. He flew off the Cell and crashed through a table in a moment that doesn’t quite rival Foley but at least it was one heck of a memorable moment. Shane is always good for some excitement and that’s what we got here, assuming you can ignore the fact that this was what Undertaker was doing at Wrestlemania.
8. AJ Styles Wins the WWE Championship
One more AJ moment because this was his year. A few years back, who would have thought this could actually happen? Styles was stuck in TNA, clearly miles ahead of most of the roster but that pesky loyalty of his kept him from jumping to WWE and left him stuck there, dealing with whatever nonsense Dixie Carter approved that usually involved her being on TV in prominent positions.
Now flash forward to September when Styles beats Dean Ambrose and becomes the Smackdown World Champion, which is the title carrying the original WWE Championship lineage. That happened and it happened on a WWE pay per view. The fact that he debuted just a few months earlier and was rocketed up the card is amazing enough and, as expected, the match was great.
Styles is someone who had some very high expectations coming in to WWE and at least he lived up to so many of them. FINALLY seeing him reach this level in America was worth the wait and the fact that he’s been one of the best wrestlers in the world on the biggest stage makes things all the better.
For the first time this year, I’m really not sure which one to pick. Is it the moment that shocked almost everyone watching or the moment that is going to mean something in the history books? Honestly this is a very hard one to go for and I could see it going either way, which isn’t often the case.
However, there’s one thing that makes my decision for me: the feelings that came with the moment. Based on that, I have to go with Goldberg squashing Lesnar. That match had my head spinning for a good while after it was over and that doesn’t happen to me very often. It made me want to see what was happening next while leaving me a combination of excited and upset at the same time. It’s rare to have emotion like that in wrestling today and it makes all the difference in the world.
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