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1. Shawn Michaels vs Diesel – In Your House: Good Friends, Better Enemies (April)
What a barmy match this was. The planned summer-long feud was curtailed into one match one Kevin Nash had announced his departure. The fact that this ended up being one match, with a definitive winner, undoubtedly helped this match but credit for both men to taking it to another level. With a No Holds Barred stip, we got a brawl around the ring including Shawn being choked by a belt, Diesel submerging Shawn in monitors after having powerbombed him through the announcers table. Any great match isn't complete, of course, without a fake limb – and after Diesel dragged Mad Dog Vachon from the front row and whipped of his prosthetic leg, Shawn superkicked him with the fake before hitting one for real and retaining the title. Real fun match this one.
2. Rob Van Dam & Sabu vs Dan Kroffatt and Doug Furnas (aired on September 24th 1996 ECW Hardcore TV)
Take two guys willing to do crazy shit, put them up against technically one of the best tag teams in the world and give them 30 minutes, then don't be surprised if the results are quite good. The match was low on selling and up to the usual ECW standards where tag rules are expected, but what a fun watch this was. Sabu is great in this kind of environment, he dragged the high flying side out of Van Dam too with Kroffat and Furnas playing the more technical style. Add to that crazy stuff like Sabu launching himself through a table and a bewildering build of near falls and there are few matches from 1996 you should invest your time in more. A little flat with a time limit finish, but ECW wanted to setup a rematch between the two teams.
3. Shawn Michaels vs Mankind – In Your House: Mind Games (September)
Like many WWF pay per views in 1996, the main event was the only good thing on the show. Fortunately, this was great. Michaels vs Mankind was a strange pairing (Mankind had lost at Summerslam and Vader, theoretically, had unfinished business with Michaels) but for a filler PPV it made sense to freshen things up. And boy was it good, wrestled at a frenetic pace with Mankind, as ever, putting his body on the line in a way that nobody else at the time did. The big spot involved Mankind attempting a belly to back suplex off the top turnbuckle through the announcers table, Shawn countered mid move into a cross body. Bit of a shame it finished with a run in, but a filler main event with two guys you needed to protect it was understandable.
4. Chris Benoit vs The Taskmaster – Falls Count Anywhere – Great American Bash (June)
The best match on the best show of the year, what a wild brawl this was. WCW matches like this not too far in the past were very sterile affairs using fake concession stands and boring weapons, this was anything but. The match instantly went into the crowd as Benoit and Taskmaster went high into the stands, out onto the concourse and into the men's toilets. Dusty Rhodes had a near fit of excitement on commentary as Benoit sat Taskmaster on a urinal and laid in some punches. We eventually descend back to the ring and Benoit superbombs Taskmaster off of a table on the turnbuckle. The whole thing took place in front of a hot crowd and featured a great post match angle where Arn Anderson and Benoit reunited.
5. Rey Mysterio Jr vs Juventud Guerrera ECW Hardcore TV (aired on March 19th Hardcore TV)
Right at the back end of ECW’s run of having the world’s best under its wing, Rey Mysterio and Juventud Guerrera had a pair of balistically good 2 out of 3 falls matches on consecutive evenings at ECW’s Big Ass Extreme Bash shows in March. The first one in New York only aired in part on TV, but the second aired in its entirety and the pair wrestled a match at a ridiculous pace with athleticism well ahead of its time. Of course, this was ECW so the scoreline at the end of the second match was 3-3 and Mysterio soon left to change the business on a national stage.
6. Dean Malenko vs Ultimate Dragon – Starrcade (December)
The previous month I was very critical of both men (in separate matches) at Fall Brawl as they both fell apart for very different reasons. Dragon had a match with (of all people) Mysterio that defied any logic sense of selling, while Malenko failed to adapt to a flat crowd. A month later and both combined for arguably the best wrestling match WCW put on all year. The opener in front of a hot crowd, which had just the right amount of balance and excitement was a joy to behold. Like a lot of “great” matches, it perhaps overdid the false finishes a bit, and WCW could be criticised not for the first time in 1996 of putting a semi-regular over a mainstay of the division, but Dragon over Malenko takes a deserved place in the list.
7. Bret Hart vs Steve Austin – Survivor Series (November)
Some people will tell you this is a fantastic match – I think they’re overdoing it a little but there are understandably a lot of people that are very fond of both men’s careers. What makes Austin and Bret so great is what it achieved more than what it was, Bret had come back with his tail up after re-signing with the WWF and had identified Austin as his next opponent. The match is perhaps one of the best economical matches you’ll ever see, a 25 minute masterpiece without any high spots or hot shotting. Austin may have lost, but it many ways he was made on this night.
8. Ric Flair and Arn Anderson vs Kevin Greene and Steve McMichael – Great American Bash (June)
The best show of the year, one of the most enjoyable pay per views WCW ever put on, headlined (sort of – Giant/Luger followed it) by the Horsemen against two NFL players. This match makes the list in part for being almost shockingly good, but also for the angle that followed. Mongo and Greene were clearly very limited, but the match put together was almost perfect given the circumstances, with Mongo accepting the money on offer from the Horsemen and turning on Greene.
9. Shane Douglas (w/ Francine) vs Pitbull 2 (aired on October 15th Hardcore TV)
The feud between Douglas and Pitbull 2 is one of the best of 1996, outlining the shift from Douglas from returning hero to the most hated man in Philadelphia. After months earlier where Douglas broke the neck of Pitbull #1, he would defend his TV title against #2 in October. The match was just a magnet of heat, excellently wrestled in front of rabid crowd. The match itself is great (easily one of Douglas’ best) but the angle that concluded it was fantastic. Douglas chucked the halo’d Gary Wolfe to the mat before hi-tailing it out of the arena as fans vied for his blood – including a few that literally vaulted the guardrail. The visual of Douglas being swept away in a torrent of ECW talent to protect him from the fans is one of the strongest of 1996.
10, Psicosis vs Rey Mysterio Jr – Bash At The Beach (July)
The show, understandably, is remembered for one thing, but this match as the opener would’ve been the #1 discussion point on almost any other WCW in the past five years. Talk about a ridiculous pace, talk about unbelievable stunts, talk about two undersized guys changing the business. Lots of hurricanrana’s, lots of dives and a reverse-a-rana off of the top rope by Mysterio to Psicosis to pick up the win. A fantastic show, but this match deserves just as much credit.