The year of 2016 was an…interesting one for WWE.
There’s not a general consensus on whether it was one of the best ever, up-and-down, mediocre or terrible. I would personally give it a B- grade, but there was definitely a lot more to love this year than there was in 2015.
Once again, we had stars come from NXT and instantly make an impact in WWE. We saw big names like A.J. Styles and Goldberg return. We saw some epic matches that forever changed the legacy of a superstar. There were record-breaking champions, great pay-per-views and disappointing pay-per-views. It was just another year for the WWE.
And we certainly learned a lot in 2016. There were some wrestlers who strongly improved and put their names on the map, while others took a step back. Now, it’s time to look at the 20 most important takeaways from the WWE in 2016.
20. Women’s Division Reaps Relevance
It’s been hard for this generation of women Superstars. A lot of us fans from the Ruthless Aggression Era have refused to move on from the legends of Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, Mickie James and others. We just can’t help but stick to our love for the original women stars, hoping they’ll make a comeback to the WWE.
But now, the Women’s Division is the best we’ve seen in a long time. Charlotte is already the best women’s heel this company has ever had, and is successfully living up to being Ric Flair’s daughter. Bayley and Sasha Banks embody all the qualities needed to be top-notch babyfaces. Nia Jax is also a super talent to watch in the ring, and she works well as the ultimate enforcer. There is so much to love about this group of women’s fighters.
19. Superstar to Watch in 2017: Finn Balor
It didn’t take Finn Balor long at all to get over with the crowd. His Demon King intro is one of the most epic fans have ever seen. The man doesn’t have to say much on the mic, because his actions and in-ring work do all of the talking.
Balor was on his way to a big year in 2016, winning the WWE Universal Championship over Seth Rollins at SummerSlam. Unfortunately, he suffered a legitimate labrum tear and was announced to be out of action for four-to-six months. That ruined the legend of Balor in 2016, but it doesn’t take a genius to know he’ll be back in 2017.
It could be at the Royal Rumble, at WrestleMania or somewhere in between. All we know is that the WWE won’t stop pushing their new rising star. We anxiously await an inevitable feud between Kevin Owens and Balor.
18. Brand Split is Working, but needs Changes
The WWE Brand Split has received mixed review from fans and pundits, but it’s hard to argue that it was the wrong call for the company. There’s no way you can have Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, John Cena, A.J. Styles, Chris Jericho, and Kevin Owens share a three-hour program together.
So splitting up the brand and giving fans two days to watch WWE programming has been a major success. But there are some changes that could be made. For example, Raw is way too long at three hours. They should cut it back to two.
Also, there’s something not working about Shane McMahon as the commissioner. He’s lacking charisma and it’s just not his role. Also, SmackDown’s pretty boring outside of A.J. Styles. Dean Ambrose is stuck doing nothing there, and The Wyatt Family’s not getting the overdue push.
17. Match of the Year: Cena vs. Styles, SummerSlam
John Cena has put up a number of great matches over the years. The only problem? He’s always won them. They’ve been way too predictable for years to the point where his character grew rather stale. Also, Cena’s known for not being a top-heavy wrestler, and many questioned his durability during matches.
Well, he and A.J. Styles had one of the best feuds of 2016. The two faced off in a singles match at SummerSlam that lasted 23:10. Even though Styles portrayed the heel character, the crowd sided with him, and they made the match so exciting. Styles is arguably the company’s top in-ring performer. He and Cena went at it all night, with countless finishers taking place.
16. The New Day Reinvents Tag Team Division
It’s a new day, yes it is!
After years of seeing countless and boring tag teams try to “carry,” the division, it appeared as though the tag teams were extinct. There was no one who had the charisma of D-Generation X, the in-ring talent of Edge and Christian. And heck, The Dudley Boyz return to WWE was a huge disaster in the PG Era.
But there was one tag team that was able to provide us with a lot of fun: The New Day. They set the record for longest tag team title run at 483 days, before losing the championships to Cesaro and Sheamus. But this group knows how to interact and apply to the fans. This was a magnificent run for a group that we certainly hope stays together for the long run.
15. Cruiserweight of the Year: Brian Kendrick
WWE is trying to rebuild the good ol’ Cruiserweight Division after years of being forgotten and for the most part, buried. Well, they have the right guys in place to lead it forward, and it starts with Brian Kendrick and T.J. Perkins, but most notably the former.
Kendrick is on his third stint with WWE after two average runs with the company. Kendrick won the WWE Cruiserweight Championship over Perkins at this year’s Hell in a Cell, only to lose it to Rich Swann a month later. So far, Kendrick’s return to the company has given the cruiserweight division new hopes. He’s the seasoned veteran to help push guys like Swann and Perkins going forward.
14. Seth Rollins Gets The Push
Rollins was WWE’s top star of 2015, but a torn ACL at a house show in a match vs. Roman Reigns put an end to a wonderful year for the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Rollins returned with a vengeance and got over with the crowd (as a face) right away. The WWE turned him babyface after Triple H screwed him over in the WWE Universal Championship match.
WWE gave up on Roman Reigns (for now) on being their top babyface and shifted to Rollins. He and Triple H are going to face off at WrestleMania, and a victory for The Architect would cement himself as THE guy on Raw. Rollins has always been one of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon’s favorites, and they’re trying to build him up as the next one.
13. Feud of the Year: Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks
Charlotte is already like the greatest women’s heel of all-time. Seriously, she is the heel you hate to love…or love to hate. She had a ton of pressure in living up to the Flair family name in wrestling, and there’s no doubt that The Nature Boy is thrilled with how far his daughter has come.
Meanwhile, Sasha Banks has emerged as not only a Legit Boss, but as a legit babyface. She’s a wonder in the ring to watch, is top-notch on the mic and her gimmick appeals greatly to the child audience.
These two have exchanged the WWE Women’s Championship so many times in a few short months, but their Hell in a Cell match (the first women’s one ever) will go down in history as an epic bout. Charlotte and Sasha Banks are two mega stars in the ring and have such good chemistry in both wrestling and in promos.
12. Chris Jericho is the G.O.A.T.
His speedo says it, and if you disagree with who the GOAT is, then you just made the list!
Honestly, what more is there to say about Chris Jericho? You can say how most wrestling icons have lost their mojo in certain eras. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair wouldn’t work in the PG Era. Triple H has become extremely limited in the ring, and The Undertaker obviously doesn’t have much strength left.
But Y2J helped WWE transition into the Attitude Era and was one of the top stars of the Ruthless Aggression Era. And now, here he remains in the PG Era — and on arguably his greatest run yet. This man takes a freaking list and makes it the best part of Raw. Jericho is supposed to be a despised heel but has the crowd cheering for him…simply because of how phenomenal he is on the mic.
All of these “stupid idiots,” messed with Jericho enough to the point where he made the List of Jericho – easily the greatest invention in mankind history. Y2J has shown he can always reinvent his character – no matter the era and/or storyline.
11. Underrated Superstar of the Year: The Miz
If there’s a younger Chris Jericho, it’s The Miz. The man is a solid (not great) performer in the ring, but his microphone skills and promos are among the greatest we’ve ever witnessed. The Miz had another great 2016, pushing Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler over and of course becoming the Intercontinental Champion at WrestleMania.
The Miz’ promo where he took shots at Daniel Bryan for quitting wrestling was so intense and so epic, that many thought it wasn’t scripted – that it was the real deal. Nope, it was just The Miz being The Miz.
After losing the title to Dolph Ziggler at No Mercy, Miz gained it back on the 900th episode of SmackDown. He has embarked on a terrific run with the title and has kept the mid-card level extremely relevant, which isn’t easy when your brand has A.J. Styles, John Cena, Randy Orton and Dean Ambrose.
10. Vince McMahon Needs to Take a Step Back
Vince McMahon is now 71 years of age, and is the man who made the WWE where it is today. That being said, it’s time for Vince to allow his son-in-law Triple H and two children to start taking over the company on a full-time basis.
Vince has all the money in the world and deserves to have a nice semi-retirement journey at this point. We say this because a lot of his booking decisions make no sense, and Triple H and Stephanie seem to have a better grasp of giving the audience what they want.
It’s Vince who keeps trying to push Roman Reigns. Same ol’ plan for three years and nobody has bought it. It’s Vince who keeps changing the endings to Charlotte/Sasha Banks’ matches last minute. It’s he who has been hesitant to bring back legends like Kurt Angle. Mr. McMahon is a legend and beloved by the WWE Universe, but his selfishness and ego gets in the way of what’s best for television and the fans. That’s a sign that it’s time for him to step back and let the children run the show.
9. Breakout Superstar of the Year: Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss was one of the many names called upon to make the Women’s Division great again, and she’s really done her part. After being lost in the shuffle for large portions of 2013, 2014 and 2015, Bliss made it her year. She moved from NXT to SmackDown at this summer’s WWE Draft and has taken every advantage of the change.
Bliss began a great feud with fan favorite Becky Lynch, instantly establishing herself as a top heel. Bliss would later defeat Lynch to win the WWE Women’s SmackDown Championship, only to lose it then regain it a short time later. Her Harley Quinn-inspired gimmick is also a huge bonus for DC obsessed fans, like myself.
8. Dean Ambrose Lost Momentum (Plenty of it)
Despite having a rather dull character on the mic and being extremely overrated as an in-ring wrestler, Ambrose appeared to be the WWE’s top babyface in the future. But 2016 didn’t do any wonders for him.
Dean Ambrose had a very disappointing match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. The loss did his character no good, considering the buildup included Ambrose telling Brock he would never go down. The Lunatic gimmick just sucked. That is all.
But all seemed well when Ambrose won the Money in the Bank and cashed it in on the same night to beat Seth Rollins for the World title. He was then drafted to SmackDown to lead the brand as its top babyface. But the crowd has turned on him and cheered for A.J. Styles (who’s supposed to be a heel).
Ambrose didn’t put on any great matches in 2016, and his character got boring quickly. His championship reign was lackluster at best, and the man has a long way to go if he is to be the star WWE wants him to be.
7. Tag Team of the Year: The New Day
Speaking of The New Day…
There was everything to love about this group. We touched base earlier on how they saved the tag team division, but now we’ll dive more into why this was easily the top group of 2016. Well for starters, there weren’t any other exciting tag teams that came close to matching their success. This group put on great matches against Anderson and Gallows, Cesaro and Sheamus, Jericho and Kevin Owens, among others.
The New Day set the record of being champions for 483 days, and it instantly won the crowd over. These guys are all incredible in the ring, are masters on the microphone and cut hilarious family-friendly promos.
6. Brock Lesnar’s Losing Steam
Ladies and gentlemen…my name is Paul Heyman and I introduce to you THE CONQUEROR! THE BEAST! BRRRRRRRRRRRRRROCK LESSSSSSSSSSSSNARRR!!
So Paul Heyman cuts pretty great promos to build up his client, Brock Lesnar. But other than that, is there really much to love about the former UFC champion at this point? Lesnar’s a big name to the fans and is an easy moneymaker for the company. But does anybody else see that his matches follow a trend?
They’re all mediocre. His match with Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania did nothing for either character. His hyped-up match against Randy Orton at SummerSlam was a major disappointment. His match against Goldberg at Survivor Series lasted just 1:26. Hard to call that a classic.
5. NXT Superstar of the Year: Shinsuke Nakamura
While scientists try to figure out how Stonehenge was formed, if Bigfoot exists, and what UFOs truly are, one of the mysteries I would like to be solved is how much longer we’ll have to wait to see Shinsuke Nakamura on Raw or SmackDown. Yes, he’s strongly growing the NXT Division and helping put wrestlers over, but we don’t want to wait any longer.
Nakamura joined the NXT at the very beginning of 2016 and is already their top superstar. He and Samoa Joe have put on the top rivalry the NXT has ever witnessed, and there’s no doubting these two will eventually headline multiple pay-per-views. Nakamura is on his second NXT Championship reign and is among the most gifted and athletic Superstars the WWE has right now.
4. Kevin Owens is a Gift
There’s no other way to put it. For WWE, finding Kevin Owens would be like finding Jennifer Aniston at a singles convention in your own city. K.O. is, in my opinion, the most talented superstar the WWE has right now.
Owens is among the top wrestling performers. He’s been able to go head-to-head with John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn and others in long matches. Owens is also a master on the microphone. His friendship with Chris Jericho is literally the best thing ever. Owens is crushing it as the Universal Champion and makes Monday Night Raw that much better. His legend finally arose when Triple H helped him win the championship by double-crossing Seth Rollins.
3. Male Superstar of the Year: A.J. Styles
Speaking of great wrestlers, Styles is the guy you want to headline a main event. He doesn’t have to do much talking. His promos are never that great, but man the guy can wrestle.
His match with John Cena at SummerSlam will go down as one of the best ever. Styles got over quickly by feuding with Chris Jericho shortly after debuting at the Royal Rumble. Styles put on a series of great matches vs. Roman Reigns in pursuit of his title. Styles and Dean Ambrose have embarked on one of 2016’s best rivalries as well.
Styles has shown (in less than a year) that he’s capable of facing any of the company’s top superstars on putting up high-quality matches. Styles is far-and-away the WWE’s MVP of 2016. He is the male Superstar of the Year, no doubt.
2. The Roman Reigns Project Will Never End
Trying to convince Mr. McMahon that Roman Reigns shouldn’t be the guy is clearly as challenging as telling Donald Trump he isn’t suitable to be president of the United States.
You see, Reigns was pushed by McMahon and the WWE to be the company’s next babyface after The Shield broke up. However, Reigns, despite being a great wrestler, cannot cut a half-decent promo to save his life. I’m sorry, but it just makes me cringe listening to him try and trash talk. But this isn’t Reigns’ fault. His character would succeed if he wasn’t forced to out-do Chris Jericho or Seth Rollins in a promo.
Thing is, the crowd started turning on Reigns well before his WrestleMania showdown with Triple H. With Reigns earning major boos, the WWE still kept trying to push them as the top face. Then he lost the title to Seth Rollins, then they kept having him finish off Raw by beating Jericho or Owens.
Reigns said he wasn’t going away. Though we admire his wrestling skills, we don’t like WWE trying to push him. But it’s clear they’re never going to stop pushing him unless the fans start accepting him.
1. Female Superstar of the Year: Charlotte
We could not emphasize enough just how great the rivalry of Sasha and Charlotte was. But without Charlotte, it’s hard to envision the women’s division being as strong as it is right now. She’s a once-in-a-generation Superstar.
The daughter of Ric became the top heel with her epic trash-talking skills and ability to come off as that conceited grade 12 girl we endured in high school. Charlotte also put on great championship matches against Natalya, Becky Lynch and of course…Sasha Banks. Her father came in as her manager and was able to give her the major push.
Charlotte helped re-brand the women’s division by putting on some of the greatest matches in recent memory. The fact her father is a WWE legend will only push her status that much further.
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