The Intercontinental Title was on a hot streak this past year, with great match after great match, after whatever the hell the Darren Young match was, then to great matches again. Battles and all out wars for the title have been consistently stealing shows throughout the entire year and delivered some serious Match of the Year contenders. The stories, promos and matches this year have brought more prestige back to the hallowed championship than there’s been in years from the vast pool of contenders to the amount of attention it’s given on Smackdown Live. It’s truly been the year of the IC title so let’s take a look back at the legacy it left in 2016. This is the Top Five Intercontinental Championship Matches of 2016.
5. The Miz (C) vs Dolph Ziggler, Backlash
The Miz is the best pure heel character in WWE today and this is a great match to showcase that. Since Wrestlemania when his wife Maryse took the on-screen role of his manager he’s been electric, especially on the mic which he wasn’t too shabby at to begin with. Taunting not only his opponent in Dolph Ziggler, but his long standing rival, Smackdown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan. Miz spent his time in control of Dolph by mocking him and directly mimicking Bryan with his patented ‘Yes’ chant and knee attacks. His heel work was the highlight of the match. However, Dolph did give a nice performance as always here, saving him from the lacklustre and disappointing round with Dean Ambrose at SummerSlam. He elevated it to a strong technical match, accompanied with Miz and his decent grappling skill, that surfboard hold bending Dolph like a straw looked vicious. but the memorable part of the match was Miz’s breakout Bryan insults following his promo of the year, possibly his whole career on Talking Smack a few weeks previous when he let loose on Bryan for calling him a coward. It was great stuff, with Miz justifiably retaining due to being white hot and one of Smackdown Live’s top stars. Overall a strong match due to Miz’s story work, although since anyone could’ve played Dolph’s part it loses some points. Dolph was just picked to represent Daniel Bryan in Miz’s mind. It was a Miz showcase and Dolph felt like the afterthought there to keep Miz’s pace up rather than an integral part of the storyline.
4. Dean Ambrose (C) vs Kevin Owens, Last Man Standing Match, Royal Rumble
The first title defence of the year and it was a tremendous kick off point for the championship’s 2016 voyage. Ambrose and Owens, unsatisfied with the limitations of a standard singles bout, were set to end their rivalry in a weapon-heavy melee. It was a very nice kick-off to the night and year as a whole. Ambrose and KO’s feud was great for both guys and they’ve since gone on to become world champion by the year’s end, and this was the best match they’ve had together. Despite the many tables, chairs and kendo sticks, it wasn’t an object only fight, both men got in some good ol’ fashioned technical wrestling and it was full of memorable spots. KO’s super fisherman’s buster through the table was gorgeous and one of the big OMG moments that filled the match. Eventually, Ambrose reclaimed after shoving Owens off the top rope, through a table on the outside, in a fitting, surprise end.
3. Seven Man Ladder Match, Wrestlemania 32
To continue the success from Wrestlemania 31, another multi-man Intercontinental championship ladder match was booked to open the event. Champion Kevin Owens would face The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Stardust, Zack Ryder, Sin Cara and Sami Zayn in this year’s edition. Despite Cara, Ryder and Stardust entering the match after being introduced on a previous Raw as “joke entrants” by Owens, challenging “losers” he’d beat easily, they managed to get their time to shine among the bigger names. Every person involved got something to add to the highlight reel; Ryder’s elbow (or elbro) off the ladder, Zayn’s leap through a ladder to the outside, Stardust having a Dusty Rhodes themed ladder, Kevin Owens being literally murdered when Zayn hit him with an exploder suplex onto a ladder. There were a lot of ladders. It was an exciting start to the show and ended with one of the biggest pops of the year with Ryder finally being treated justly and achieving his dream of capturing Intercontinental gold to a roaring “Woo Woo Woo” from the fans and then being joined in celebration by his Dad. It was genuinely one of the best moments for the WWE this year. I saw it in a pub with hundreds of other people and I’ve never seen more legitimate excitement from a crowd in my life, some people were crying with happiness and that’s no lie. While the match’s overall savoury taste has soured given that Ryder lost the belt the next night on Raw to The Miz and dropped back down the card like a corpse into a lake shaped like Mojo Rawley, (CAN YOU FEEL THE HYPE YET?) it was phenomenally fun at the time. An awesome opening showcase, just opposite the overly long and duller than watching grey paint dry main event the show went out on.
2. The Miz (C) vs Cesaro vs Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens, Extreme Rules
A close call with the top two but ultimately one of the main roster’s best matches of the year only lands in second place. When it was said earlier that wars were waged over the Intercontinental title, this is what was being referred to. Quickly paced action, intense strikes and spots up the wazoo, this was everything you want in a multi-man match. So many close calls that will legitimately have your heart racing it’s the definition of an exciting match up. Sami Zayn and Cesaro definitely felt like the stand-outs here by getting in the most of their offence and Sami jumping around like a frightened cat in a dog kennel to keep the match alive was exhausting. And I’m just a sucker for Cesaro’s uppercuts, simple as. Every time he delivers a European uppercut a baby is born laughing in a field of dreams. Not to take away from Kevin Owens or The Miz but they could’ve been more involved early on and Miz should’ve had way more offence in for being the eventual winner, though him slithering in to steal the victory was excellent and totally fitting of his character. This match kept you on your toes, there were high stakes, build-up, the sense anyone could win and no friends. It was a balls to the wall brawl that certainly belongs in the nominations for match of the year.
1. The Miz (C) vs Dolph Ziggler, Career vs Title Match, No Mercy
Thus the list ends where it began. How many times over the past decade have we seen The Miz vs Dolph Ziggler? Quite a lot. And usually in throw away matches on Raw and Smackdown, but since the brand split these men have soared. Miz’s previously discussed heel work has him at the best he’s ever been and Dolph’s determined, fire for blood underdog persona has really connected with the fans. Never more so than in this match, which perfectly captures the meaning of the Intercontinental Championship; straight up, no gimmicks, pure technical wrestling prowess. A slow burning start that grows through story-telling, displayed and inner passion and gtradional wrestling brilliance to turn into a match of the year candidate. The ramifications were sky high, if Dolph lost he had to retire, but that would also mean the end of The Miz’s stellar title run. Fans were conflicted, with the early stages of the match having the crowd split between both men but they were eventually turned to Dolph’s side following the performance of his career. Years from now when he’s long retired, this will be a match people talk about, “Go back and watch when Ziggler beat Miz at No Mercy 2016” they’ll say, “It sums up in roughly 20 minutes why he was the show stealer”. Miz kept up his mock Daniel Bryan impersonation while Maryse and The Spirit Squad would later get involved to keep the last few minutes even more tense only to be banned from ringside in the closing moments. Good on you ref, where the hell were you when Ric Flair kept costing Becky the women’s title? It’s a match that brought the excellence and passion that us fans lust for, two vastly different confidince driven performers outdoing each other at every turn with the full deal being sealed with one thunderous superkick. It was the right place, the right time and the right match to crown Dolph with his fifth Intercontinental Championship and it was executed to perfection. Pat Patterson would be as proud as Miz was broken.