Welcome back to another trip down wrestling memory lane as I list my Top 10 Favourite Matches of 2006. This was actually quite a difficult list to compile as there were some fantastic matches in 2006 and whittling the list down to just 2006 proved very tricky. ROH features heavily here as I was watching a lot of their product at the time, with Bryan Danielson having one of his best years in the ring as ROH World Champion. As always this is not intended to be an objective list but is rather a subjective collection of the matches I personally enjoyed the most in 2006. If you have a different selection then please feel free to share it in the comments section below.
John Cena Vs Triple H – Chicago, Illinois (2nd April 2006)
John Cena had started to get booed by a large portion of the WWE fan base during the summer of 2005, and it was something that would continue for many years. Despite how disliked he was, Cena could still have good matches in the ring and this was one of the best ones he had in 2006. Triple H was normally a villain who the fans hated, but they did also respect his abilities even if they didn’t like him. This respect led to the crowd at WrestleMania cheering on Triple H, even though Triple H was hardly heroic in the way he wrestled the match. At one stage Triple H even clocked Cena with a sledgehammer whilst the referee was down and it merely led to the crowd cheering even louder than they had previously been doing!
Triple H was excellent in this match in all honesty, as he was the one who carried the action due to his experience level. The match told a good story, with Triple H being portrayed as the better technical wrestler but Cena making up for it with his youthful exuberance and determination. In front of a crowd that didn’t hate him, Cena would have probably been enjoying hearty audience support in this one as Triple H crafted a good story that naturally led you to want to see Cena overcome his limits in order to defeat the cocky challenger. The closing sequence in particular was executed really well, with Cena uncharacteristically heading up to the top rope for something out his wheelhouse and it almost proved decisive in the eventual result.
I enjoyed this match a lot at the time and I still enjoy going back to watch it as well. The combination of Triple H’s solid storytelling and the invested live crowd made for an entertaining spectacle and a worthy show closer to an overall decent WrestleMania 22 event. CM Punk also made a quick blink and you’d miss it appearance as a gun toting mobster in Cena’s special WrestleMania entrance.
Edge Vs Mick Foley – Chicago, Illinois (2nd April 2006)
Edge had a very good 2006, as he won the WWE Title twice and took part in some excellent matches with the likes of John Cena and Triple H. My favourite contest of his from 2006 took place at that year’s WrestleMania event, as he took on long term real life friend Mick Foley in a wild weapons filled brawl that raised the bar on the sort of violence you could find on a WWE show. The feud to set the match up had felt a bit thrown together, but once the two men got into the ring at WrestleMania they delivered the goods and then some, with Edge ending the match a bloody and twitching mess following some brutal offence from Foley.
Edge’s valet Lita even got involved at points as well, taking some big bumps and even bleeding from the mouth at one stage. It really was a violent outing, with barbed wire, drawing pins and even fire making an appearance, as Mick Foley went out of his way to have a classic WrestleMania match after previous failed attempts. Both men were excellent here, with Lita also excelling in her role as well, making the match a thrilling and sickening gore fest that often times felt more like something you would see in the days of ECW in the 90’s as opposed to something you’d see on a major WWE event.
The finishing move in particular was something that was replayed over and over again due to how violent, dangerous and impressive it looked, as a table got set on fire and both combatants ended up taking a spill off the apron through it to send the crowd into hysterics. This match definitely holds up as I’ve gone back to it a few times and it remains an exciting wild brawl that hits all the right beats. It definitely won’t be for everyone due to the level of violence, but I personally think it’s fantastic and a worthy addition to the list for 2006.
Kurt Angle Vs The Undertaker – Baltimore, Maryland (19th February 2006)
Kurt Angle and The Undertaker had good chemistry as opponents, especially when they were allowed to cut loose and build a long competitive bout, which is what they did here in this Main Event from the No Way Out pay per view event. What made the match so good was that the crowd really bought both wrestlers as being deserving World Title level guys, meaning that the match had strong reactions to go with the good wrestling on display. Sometimes a match just has the mythical “big fight feel” to it, where it mirrors a big Heavyweight boxing match or a Main Event for a UFC pay per view. Angle and Undertaker successfully managed to give this match an epic feel, which really made it exciting and enjoyable to watch.
The crowd had previously been deflated by Randy Orton defeating Rey Mysterio Jr in a big match, so it’s a testament to both Angle and Undertaker that they were able to get the crowd back on board to the point that they were going nuts in the closing stages when it looked like the bout could go in either direction. This match really raised the standing of the entire event it took place on, as it took a so-so show and boosted it to being a good one due to just how great the show closing bout was. This is a match that I continue to appreciate more and more over the years and it’s definitely worth seeking out if you’ve never seen it before.
Bryan Danielson Vs Nigel McGuinness – Liverpool, England (12th August 2006)
Danielson and McGuinness had faced off in matches prior to this and had split victories, so this match was set up in order to resolve matters between the two. Danielson was the current ROH World Champion at the time whilst Nigel held ROH’s Pure Wrestling Title, so this match was set up in order to unify the two belts as ROH didn’t want to persist with the Pure Title anymore. The Pure Title was fought under rules where each wrestler only had three rope breaks that they could use, and once those rope breaks were used up they could no longer grab the ropes to save themselves from a submission or pin attempt. Being that the Pure Title was on the line here it was fought under Pure Wrestling rules.
McGuinness was from England, so that led to this match having a great atmosphere, as the majority of the crowd wanted to see McGuinness pick up the victory due to the show taking place in the UK. Danielson still had his fans as well though, so the crowd were invested in the action right from the off and the match built really well. Both men started grappling on the mat to start, which was something both of them were very good at, and as the match progressed they gradually started introducing bigger and bigger moves in their quest to become the Unified Champion. Eventually the fight spilled out to the floor, at which point a gruesome sequence took place that the match will always be remembered for.
As the two men fought outside the ring, Danielson grabbed hold of McGuinness’ wrists and pulled him numerous times into the ring post, with McGuinness hitting the post over again in brutal fashion. It remains one of the most stomach churning things I’ve seen in a wrestling match, as McGuinness had pretty much no protection and just went into the post over and over again. Not surprisingly McGuinness came up bleeding following that, leading to a dramatic closing stretch where the Englishman tried to survive the loss of blood so that he could pick up the victory in front of his fellow countrymen.
This match has taken on a near mythical status amongst long running fans of ROH, as the brutality on display was staggering at points but the match itself told a fantastic story and the live crowd were absolutely enthralled by the dramatic storytelling that took place. McGuinness played his role of gutsy hometown hero perfectly and Danielson entered his usual superlative performance as the best wrestler in the world, leading to the match being one of the best of the entire year in my humble opinion. ROH deserve credit for delivering an unapologetically clean finish as well, as they didn’t shy away from having the bout end decisively.
Homicide Vs Colt Cabana – Chicago, Illinois (1st April 2006)
Homicide and Cabana had a long running feud from 2005-06, which all started when Cabana tried to make a joke and Homicide took offence to it. Thus a blood feud began from that, as Homicide’s character was that of a psychotic super serious street thug who would destroy someone for any perceived slight be it real or not. Cabana was more of a fun loving easy going character who tended to focus more on trying to technically out wrestle his opponents, but the feud with Homicide caused Cabana to have to take a more serious approach and work more facets of brawling into his matches in order to survive the assault of Homicide.
Homicide had given Cabana no other option, as the feud had involved Homicide pouring Drano down Cabana’s throat, as well as trying to cut out his tongue during a match at one stage. The final fight between the two men was due to take place in Cabana’s hometown of Chicago, which meant the battle had a great atmosphere due to Cabana’s hometown fans wanting him to win and pick up revenge. Cabana did a really good job getting across his more serious persona during this feud, with his usual bright smile replaced with a vacant stare and sombre walk to the ring. It really gave the feeling that this feud had gone too far and now it needed to end, which the action in the match supported as well.
Cabana showed some good brawling instincts in this match, with Homicide making his offence look good and going out of his way to make Cabana look like a believable opponent. The match wasn’t just a wild brawl but it also told a good story as well, with Cabana doing unto Homicide what Homicide had done unto him during other parts of the feud, such as throwing rubbing alchohol in Homicides face, attacking Homicide with his own “ghetto fork” weapon and even choking Homicide with a coat hanger at one stage. Seeing the bad guy get his just desserts was a cathartic end to the rivalry and it also made sense from a storyline perspective.
Barbed wire even made an appearance at one stage, as Homicide brought some wooden boards into the ring that had the wire attached to them. This would eventually lead to the boards being laid under a table and then a wrestler taking a spill through that table in one of the biggest moments of the whole match. All of this brutality really felt like it had been “earned” as well, as the two men had been feuding for a long time with the feud gradually escalating more and more, thus making this final fight between the two men feel like the epic conclusion the rivalry needed. It worked as both a great brawl and a great way to end a long running storyline, and that is why I enjoy it so much.
Bryan Danielson Vs KENTA – New York, New York (16th September 2006)
Danielson spent the autumn and winter of 2006 nursing an injured shoulder that he suffered in a match with Colt Cabana in an hour long two out of three falls encounter. Despite being banged up he still delivered some excellent performances and matches, with this battle with KENTA of Pro Wrestling NOAH being one of the more famous ones. Danielson had been out of action for about three weeks prior to this contest, but he still showed up to New York and gutted it out in a long Main Event against KENTA with the ROH World Title on the line.
KENTA threw numerous stiff kicks to the injured shoulder of Danielson, which allowed both men to work the real life injury into the match’s storyline. The match had a simple story but it was told well, with Danielson’s injury slowing him down and allowing KENTA to take an early lead until Danielson was forced to use underhanded tactics such as raking KENTA’s face along the ropes in order to gain a foothold in the contest. Danielson even gave a shout out to great World Champion of the past Ric Flair at one stage by applying a Figure Four Leg Lock (Flair’s signature hold) and then grabbing the ropes in order to illegally give the hold more leverage just like Flair used to do back in the day.
KENTA looked very good in the role of challenger in this match, with his measured offence being well executed and having an air of legitimacy to it. The crowd responded well to the good wrestling before them, especially when both men started traded submission hold attempts and also started throwing big strikes at one another, such as Danielson throwing some big head butts at one stage because his weakened shoulder meant traditional striking attacks wouldn’t have the usual oomph to them if he used his arm.
For Danielson to put on such a great performance with essentially one good arm was very impressive, but it was almost to be expected of him at this stage as he was having an incredible year in 2006 when it came to the quality of matches he was producing. Danielson would often refer to himself as the “Best in the World” during this period, and matches like this are a good example as to why many thought he deserved such a nickname. The crowd were a big part of why this match was so fun to watch as well, as they really got into it, especially when the bout entered the latter stages and the two men traded attempts to win.
Naomichi Marufuji Vs Nigel McGuinness – New York, New York (16th September 2006)
Coming into this match, Marufuji was the current GHC Heavyweight Champion, which was the top belt in the NOAH promotion. NOAH and ROH had been working together in the build-up to this, with guys from NOAH occasionally coming over to have matches with the ROH guys. Thus it was decided that, seeing as McGuinness had been working in NOAH as well as ROH, he would be given a shot at the GHC Heavyweight Title here on this event, with it actually being the first time the belt had ever been defended outside of Japan. Thus this wasn’t just a great match but it was also an historic one to boot.
This match took place on the same show as the previous bout listed, and I’ve always been in the minority of people who enjoy Marufuji/McGuinness more than I do Danielson/KENTA. I think I like this one more because it had more of a classical Japanese Main Event feel to it, as the two wrestlers built it gradually, starting on the mat in the early sections before eventually getting to the big moves and near falls you would associate with a Main Event Japanese bout. The match had fantastic atmosphere, with Marufuji being treated as a big outside star by the ROH fans, whilst McGuinness was also very popular, leading to some duelling chants amongst the crowd.
McGuinness had to sell his leg at one stage in the bout as Marufuji worked it over and he did a fantastic job. Marufuji then did an equally fine job of selling his arm and shoulder for a bit, giving both men an injured appendage to slow them down as the match moved into the business end. McGuinness threw a number of his trademark Lariats throughout the bout, with them having the usual explosive snap that McGuinness was known for, whilst Marufuji replied with his regular big offensive moves, such as he trademark Shiranui neck breaker that he even delivered off the apron to the floor at one stage.
Marufuji and McGuinness both had quite different styles inside the ring, with McGuinness focusing more on strikes and technical wrestling whilst Marufuji was more of a high-flying wrestler with quick paced offence. This styles clash led to an interesting tactical battle between the two men and really made the match more enjoyable to watch as both men had their own techniques and game plans and the fun came from seeing who would be able to execute their strategy the best. Perhaps the biggest compliment you could give the match would be that you could have transplanted it from the Manhattan Centre to Budokan Hall in Japan it wouldn’t have felt out of place as a big NOAH Main Event, which was ultimately what the two wrestlers were going for and they passed with flying colours!
Naomichi Marufuji Vs KENTA – Tokyo, Japan (29th October 2006)
Marufuji and KENTA had both started out in NOAH as Junior Heavyweights and had also had a spell as tag team partners, but Marufuji had stepped up to the Heavyweight division and managed to wrest the GHC Heavyweight Title from Jun Akiyama, thus leading to this match being signed between the two men. Sadly the match was not a success at the box office as it the two men failed to sell out NOAH’s traditional big show arena Budokan Hall. Thankfully though, even though the match may not have been a commercial success it was at least a critical one, as the two men upped the ante on their previous Junior Heavyweight bouts to have a match that was worthy of Main Eventing any major company’s show.
In some ways this bout was a hybrid of the traditional Japanese Heavyweight style and the more modern Junior Heavyweight style, with the two wrestlers marrying together the pacing and drama of big Heavyweight clashes of the past with the sort of fast paced and high-flying big moves that the Junior Heavyweights were known for. KENTA ended up bleeding from his nose at one stage when Marufuji flung him into the front row and then followed up with a big dive, which added an extra layer of drama and also allowed for KENTA to soak up some punishment and gain some sympathy from the crowd. Both Marufuji and KENTA were big hits with the female contingent of the NOAH audience, and some of the women in the crowd were freaking out during some of the more dramatic and heavy hitting sections of the bout.
Marufuji kept going for his Shiranui finishing move, but whenever he did KENTA was able to get out of it. When Marufuji was finally able to get the move he was too banged up to make the cover, and when he finally got it again later on KENTA was actually able to kick out. The fact they had Marufuji fight for so long to perform the move gave it a real sense of weight when he finally did, and for KENTA to then kick out only added another layer of drama to proceedings as Marufuji now needed to find another way of winning. The finishing section was really well done, as the crowd got really into the action and both wrestlers did an excellent job putting it together. It’s a shame the two wrestlers didn’t draw well at the live gate because the match itself was brilliant.
CIMA, Masato Yoshino & Naruki Doi Vs Dragon Kid, Genki Horiguchi & Ryo Saito – Chicago, Illinois (31st March 2006)
All six of these competitors wrestled in the DragonGate promotion when this ROH event took place, with the six of them coming in to do a guest match on one of ROH’s big shows. Speaking as someone who had never watched DragonGate prior to this, seeing these six men go in there and have the match they had here really opened my mind. I hadn’t been so pleasantly surprised and shocked by a new different style of pro wrestling since I had watched the Michinoku Pro guest match at ECW’s first pay per view event in 1997. Just as the Michinoku wrestlers were displaying the next level of exciting fast-paced high-flying wrestling in 1997, so to were these DragonGate wrestlers in 2006.
The ROH crowd seemed to have good understanding of what DragonGate was before the match started, which gave the match a good atmosphere as they knew what each wrestler’s character was and what their trademark moves were. This was one of those matches that you just had to experience, as it started out like a normal wrestling match before eventually evolving into a veritable feast of big moves, slick counters and wild high-flying action. The propensity for double and triple team moves was on full display, as DragonGate rules were more flexible and allowed multiple wrestlers in the ring more often, leading to some crazy sequences where sometimes all three members of a team would be in the ring at the same time putting a beating on another wrestler.
What was so great about that match was that ROH didn’t bring in the DragonGate wrestlers and then demand they work a different style to what they were doing in Japan. These six wrestlers were brought in specifically to do what they did in Japan on an ROH show. The fact they wrestled differently was seen as a feature and not a bug, which was not always the case when wrestlers from another promotion were invited in to wrestle elsewhere. Watching the crowd stand in unison when the match really kicked into high gear was a joy to behold, as they really appreciated what they were seeing before them and you could just feel like this bout was going to have an historic reputation attached to it due to how awe inspiring it was.
Bryan Danielson Vs Roderick Strong – Chicago, Illinois (31st March 2006)
Danielson was really on a role during this period as the arrogant World Champion of ROH, working almost like an old NWA touring World Champion as he would have long competitive matches with all the top stars in the company, often skirting to or actually reaching the 60 minute time limit in the process. This would be my personal favourite match of his run with the belt, as Danielson and Strong wrestled one another for nearly an hour in a gruelling bout that combined elements of classic World Title matches from the 70’s and 80’s with modern moves and techniques to create a fantastic bout that earned its long run time.
Strong wasn’t renowned for being the most charismatic figure outside of the ring, although he would go on to play an insufferable jock bully really well in his later career, but inside the ring he has been one of the better wrestlers of his generation. Indeed, you could make the argument that pound for pound he’s the best wrestler when it comes to mechanics than anyone else in the WWE right now. When you consider some of the people on the WWE roster, that’s one heck of a statement, but matches like this highlight why I think it is true.
Danielson has enough charisma for both men in this one, playing his villain role incredibly well, thus making it all the more satisfying when Strong was able to dish out some punishment to him. There were also some great moments in the match that you wouldn’t normally see, such as Strong accidentally chopping the ring post and Danielson then trying to submit him with a basic wrist lock. I also loved how close they took it to the time limit draw before swerving the crowd and actually giving the bout a decisive finish instead. Watching it for the first time I felt for sure the battle was going to end in a draw, so the finish completely caught me unawares and that really made the match all the better. This one is probably quite hard to track down now, but if you see this show for sale somewhere then I strongly suggest picking it up.