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1. Chris Benoit vs The Taskmaster – Great American Bash
What a wild match this was. The Benoit/Taskmaster feud was really in its infant stages at this point, but the two put on a real surprise of a brawl that quickly went high into the stands, onto the concourse and into the men’s toilets – much to the delight of Dusty Rhodes and many of the people in the vicinity. After some unique toilet brawling we made our way back to the ring, via Benoit being thrown down some stairs, before a big superbomb off of a table on the top turnbuckle for the finish. Combined with a great post-match angle, where the teased break-up of Benoit and Arn Anderson turned out to be a ruse, and you get a worthy best WCW match of 1996.
2. Dean Malenko vs The Ultimo Dragon – Starrcade
The near perfect match in many ways. With a hot, fresh crowd these two delivered a great match that rode the line perfectly of big spots without being excessive. Malenko slows things down in the middle, as he always does, but this gets to a crescendo of Malenko hitting a series of big looking moves, none of which won him the match. Still, the action continues to build with a crowd willing to go with it and Dragon wins the match with a double underhook bridging German suplex. Of all of the cruiserweight matches we cover, this one probably had the right balance.
3. Ric Flair and Arn Anderson vs Steve “Mongo” McMichael and Kevin Greene – Great American Bash
Yikes – this match really had no right to be any good. Instead, in the semi-main event of what would turn out to be one of WCW’s best pay per views ever, two footballers opposed two Horsemen in a match that went about as well as anyone could’ve possibly expected. Greene and Mongo were well rehearsed and had enough training to get through the basic spots. With Flair and Arn seemingly fit for this kind of match (see last year), it was thoroughly entertaining and the angle that it finished with – Mongo turning on Greene and joining the Horsemen was another job well done.
4. Psicosis vs Rey Mysterio Jr – Bash At The Beach
I mean, given what happened at the conclusion of this show it was a hell of an ask for anything else to have stuck, but it says a lot that Psicosis and Rey Mysterio (in the opener, no less) were able to produce a barmy match that set a tone for a historic night for the company. We’ve seen these two work crazy matches in ECW previously, so it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise but the number of logic defying stunts and moves in this match still took your breath away. Mysterio picks up the in with a reverse-a-rana off the top.
5. Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan vs Sting, Lex Luger and Randy Savage – Bash At The Beach
This isn’t a great match, on another night it’s barely even good (we saw this at Hog Wild the next month) but such was the fervor generated around the Outsiders angle that this match from start to finish felt like a big deal. Executed perfectly too, with Lex Luger being taken out early leaving it 2 on 2, it’ll forever be remembered for the match where Hulk Hogan turned heel and created the group that would go onto dominate the wrestling world for the next couple of years. For that, and for a match that lived up to very high billing, it deserves it’s place.
6. Lord Steven Regal vs The Belfast Bruiser – Uncensored
This, as it turned out, was an abominable pay per view, but it didn’t always feel like it was going to be. After a very nice opener between Eddie Guerrero and Konnan we moved onto a proper European style brawl with Finlay managing to break Regal’s nose not long into the fight. This was a rough, tough hitting style that you just didn’t see very often and even if it lacked context/build it was a very fun fight to watch if you’re into that kind of style. Shame about the rest of the show.
7. The Steiner Brothers vs Fire and Ice (Scott Norton and Ice Train) – Great American Bash
In amongst one of WCW’s best show was another hard hitting physical brawl. Logically, after being in their most interesting match in WCW ever, the company split up Fire and Ice into two singles acts that didn’t really mean much of anything. Still, in this context this was a real fun, hard hitting tag match to watch with four powerful dudes exchanging big moves. Scott Steiner drops Norton on his shoulder with a big suplex, Norton returned that receipt later in the match in an example of where an error adds to the enjoyment of the match. Speaking of out of control, they attempted to finish it with Scott doing a frankisteiner on Norton – it ended up looking like Norton powerbombing Scott but a finish is a finish. Hell of a physical brawl.
8. Diamond Dallas Page vs Johnny B Badd – Superbrawl
This wasn't quite as good as their pair of matches that crept into the end of the top ten WCW matches of 1995, but this was still a really nice match between two guys (on the evidence of three matches within six months) have really good chemistry. At this stage in the game, being the best match on a WCW pay per view didn't necessarily mean much, but we're at that part of the list (the next two are, as well). Badd picks up the win with a tombstone piledriver – winning the WCW TV Title and $6.6m for Diamond Doll. Shame Badd buggered off to the WWF the next month, if nothing else as it resulted in one of the worst matches of the year.
9. Chris Jericho vs Chris Benoit – Fall Brawl
September was probably the first month of a run through the rest of the year where WCW pay per views were generally quite high on quality, if meaningless, matches – followed by main event matches that were high on star power and flat on quality. Jericho vs Benoit stood on sandwiched between two other cruiserweight matches, and perhaps stands out retrospectively given the two men involved. In Horsemen country Benoit was heavily favoured against the new and vanilla Jericho. As if there wasn't enough reasons to like this match, Benoit actually won it with a superplex, which is something that never works anywhere near enough.
10. Chris Jericho vs Nick Patrick – World War 3
OK... yeah, there were plenty of better matches in WCW in 1996 but, can a match truly make the list if I can't remember it. This match makes the list because 1) it was about as good as any match involving Nick Patrick could possibly be and 2) Nick Patrick is excellent. Jericho worked the match with one hand tied behind his back, but still largely had the upper hand as Patrick's facial expressions and all around excellence keep the match interesting for the 6-7 minutes it runs. Did I mention Nick Patrick is great? No word of a lie – this was probably the best match on the pay per view, mind.