2016 has been an up and down year for WWE. On one hand, we have seen the emergence of stars like AJ Styles and Kevin Owens, and for the most part, match quality and overall PPV quality have been higher than the last few years. On the other hand, we saw the company take a huge risk with the announcement of its latest brand split, and while this has given a platform for many new stars to take center stage, the storylines have often been bland and lackluster, continuing the average rating for WWE’s weekly programming.
As usual, the superstars tasked with carrying the future of the company have put on amazing showcases but are still hindered by mediocre booking, leading to some below-average content. The following list takes a look at WWE’s superstars in the year 2016. Which ones have shone brightest, and which ones have fallen short?
Here are the 10 best and 10 worst WWE performers from 2016.
20 Best - DIY
Not many fans would have expected Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa to go to WWE full time this year, so for the duo to steal the show at back to back Takeover events, and win the NXT Tag Team Championships exceeded everyone’s expectations. After early struggles with chemistry and identity, the two have come into their own lately, with an incredible encounter in the Cruiserweight Classic, a great year which they capped off with that recent title win. With the Revival likely to move to the main roster soon, look for these two to run the tag team division, with new challengers hopefully emerging soon from teams like the Authors of Pain, TM61 and Sanity. This probably won’t last forever, as many people expect a heel turn from one of these men eventually, which would lead to an absolutely incredible, and possibly NXT defining rivalry.
19 Worst – Sin Cara
The Sin Cara character hasn’t worked out at all for WWE, as he was projected to be a major Latino star, perhaps the replacement to Rey Mysterio, but alas, he has been a failure at every turn (through 3 men behind the mask), and that was no different in 2016. From botches, to injuries to backstage friction, the character simply hasn’t worked, and despite a good job in NXT, there was no saving the gimmick when the duo of The Lucha Dragons broke up in time for the brand split. Since then, he was moved to RAW and put in the cruiserweight division, a huge mistake, as Sin Cara is just as bland as they come, and with the exciting performers in that division, no one really cares about Sin Cara, and it’s killed his character. Time to move on, WWE.
18 Best – Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks was called for and called for by the WWE Universe, and in early 2016, the fans got their wish when she was inserted into the women’s championship feud for an amazing bout at WrestleMania. Since then she has gone on to win the WWE RAW Women’s Championship 3 times (even though most, including myself have hated the swapping of titles between her and Charlotte), with her latest win on Monday hopefully propelling her on to bigger and better *cough* Bayley *cough* things. On top of this, The Boss was a part of the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match, which was also the first PPV main evented by women in WWE, showing that talented stars like her, Charlotte and Becky are just as good, if not better than the men.
17 Worst – Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke began the year in NXT, and was promoted to join Emma on the main roster, a combination that was getting better in developmental, but with Emma’s injury, she was paired with incredibly polished and talented Charlotte. Being thrust into the spot light like this hasn’t helped Brooke, as she was mediocre in the ring at best, but now has to come along quickly if she is to live up to any kind of potential that WWE see in her. Unfortunately, the few solo matches she has had, even with Bayley have failed to deliver, and it’s leaving WWE questioning whether she can make it or not. Maybe with the return of Emma, Brooke can hide her weaknesses while she continues to improve, but if 2016 is anything to go on, she has a long, long way to go.
16 Best – The Revival
The Revival are the most decorated tag team in NXT history, and despite dropping their titles to DIY in Toronto, 2016 was the year that Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson firmly established themselves as top guys in the tag team division. From amazing matches with American Alpha, TM61 and DIY, and their continued improvement on the microphone, they will look to establish themselves as the top team on the main roster, if not the world in 2017. Their throwback gimmick is fantastic, and should be well received by Vince McMahon, and they should be in for a huge year if their in ring ability and great character work can help them stand out from over the top teams like Enzo & Cass and the New Day.
15 Worst – Curt Hawkins
Despite only debuting in the last few months of the year, Curt Hawkins has made his way onto this list for a few reasons. When he made his way back into the company following the brand split, many fans thought it would be a chance for him to reinvent himself and show off his true personality and in-ring talent. What we got, however, was an incredibly stupid gimmick that wouldn’t work in any wrestling era (not to mention a rip off of Eva Marie with his entrance), and his matches have been highly disappointing thus far. For most people, a poor start can be overcome, but for Hawkins, who lost clean within weeks of his anticipated debut, there is no point going any further because the fans have given up on the idea and have turned their attention to more exciting, promising stars.
14 Best – Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho again reinvented himself in 2016, and his weekly antics with best friend Kevin Owens and his famous List of Jericho are the most entertaining things about WWE RAW at the moment. Everyone already knew about the in ring and entertainment talents of Jericho, but he has managed to top himself this year, turning what was meant to be a brief run into an extended run, which the majority of wrestling fans want to see continue well into 2017. Whether you love him or you hate him, it’s hard to deny that Jericho has been on fire this year, and if the breakup with Kevin Owens is anything like fans expect it to be, who knows, he could find his way onto 2017’s edition of this list.
13 Worst – Eva Marie
This can’t be all Eva Marie’s fault, as the company signed her with no wrestling experience, and expected fans of a wrestling orientated show like NXT to react to her in a positive light. That being said, her lack of improvement during the time she was active with the company was a detriment to the women’s division (both on NXT and Smackdown), and her untimely suspension only made it worse. Despite looking like she had a great, heat-drawing gimmick at the beginning of the brand split, the heat was still on her abilities in the ring, rather than being a good heel, and it’s quite possible that her talents will never get to the level that WWE desire, as they obviously see her as a major part of the women’s division. Maybe with the time off from suspension she has gotten better in the ring, but that’s unlikely, and this lack of wrestling ability for someone who is looking to make it as a wrestler is why she lands on this list.
12 Best – The Miz
No one would have expected the Miz to be on this type of list at the beginning of the year 2016, but with the return of his wife, Maryse and the brand split, the A-Lister has come into his own as a brash, cocky heel. On top of this, his program and matches with Dolph Ziggler have been fantastic, and seemingly out of nowhere, the Miz has begun to restore prestige to the Intercontinental Championship. Ever since his emotional, epic encounter with rival Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack, Miz has again become must see, and hopefully that continues well into 2017 and beyond. Whether we see the much anticipated match between him and Bryan is yet to be seen, but their interactions in furthering this feud are can’t miss, and if the WWE did pull the trigger on one last match with Bryan, the Miz would be his perfect opponent.
11 Worst – Darren Young
It’s hard to tell where WWE went so wrong with Mr. No Days Off, but it’s quite clear by now that WWE have completely wasted his potential (whether it was main event caliber is questionable, but he could have been a valuable mid card star and added depth to the roster). From his initial Nexus run to his Tag Team Championship win as a part of the Prime Time Players, it looked like WWE were high on him, but over the past year things have just kept going downhill, and may never be salvageable. Upon hearing that Young had been teamed up with a Hall of Famer like Bob Backlund, fans were somewhat excited, but after the same, awkward promos aired week after week, it ran its course before even beginning, and the end result was less than 2 months on TV before being scrapped.
10 Best – Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens has shown his star potential ever since arriving in NXT way back in 2015, and this was the year that he finally proved he could be a centerpiece for WWE’s plans heading into the future. His friendship with Chris Jericho has been put into the spot light lately and has been highly entertaining, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Prize Fighter is one of the best, most well rounded in ring competitors in WWE today. With the returns of Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, and old foes like Sami Zayn and Cesaro lurking, there seems to be plenty for the reigning Universal Champion to do heading into 2017, and he should do well, as long as he isn’t needlessly fed to one of the part time stars.
9 Worst – Titus O’Neil
2016 has been an incredibly odd year for Titus O’Neil in WWE, with more ups and downs than anyone in the company. At the beginning of the year, he was almost fired by the boss in a quite controversial moment, where he simply put his hands on Vince McMahon at the end of Daniel Bryan’s retirement ceremony. After being talked down, McMahon handed him just a suspension and upon his return he was thrust into the United States title picture. Since then, he’s done absolutely nothing of importance, and was involved in some of the worst TV in years with Darren Young, someone with whom there should be chemistry. It’s been quite clear for sometime that the fans just don’t connect with him in any way, and 2016 was the year that confirmed that O’Neil will never be anything special.
8 Best – Roman Reigns
Internet fans may not want to hear this, but Roman Reigns has improved out of sight in 2016, and whether you like him or not, he is going to be a major focal point for WWE over the next decade or more. He may still be disliked by a majority of the audience, but he has shown an abundance of improvement in the ring in 2016, particularly in working with a diverse range of performers. His promo abilities still need major work as we all know, but hopefully better booking going into 2017 can help mask those weaknesses, so look for Roman to continue dominating the mid card, or perhaps a move back to the main event scene, maybe with a much anticipated heel turn.
7 Worst - Goldust
Despite pushing 50, Goldust still looks like a young man in the ring (with thanks to DDP Yoga, of course), but it’s the nonsensical pairing and silly gimmick that ran its course years ago that is holding Dustin Runnels back. Being paired with R-Truth was always going to mean trouble, and despite his best efforts, the veteran of 25 years couldn’t save this train wreck. It’s hard to see why WWE is still holding on to him though, as he served them well for many years, but his time is gone, and with younger and more talented performers coming through the ranks, we shouldn’t be seeing him on our TV’s for much longer. Let’s just hope that if WWE can’t pull something miraculous out of the bag to save him, they let him go to preserve his legacy.
6 Best - Charlotte
Ever since Charlotte took over the Women’s division in 2015, she has barely stepped a foot wrong, as she is now the top heel queen in the division, and is probably by far the best pure heel in the company (doesn’t hurt that she gets to work with the likes of Sasha Banks and Bayley). 2016 has been her best year yet, and apart from losing her title to Sasha Banks on three separate Raw episodes, she has been untouchable, on the microphone and in the ring. If her future is as bright as it seems right now, we may be looking at Charlotte as one of the best women’s performers in WWE history when it’s all said and done, and by that time, we may look back on 2016 as the year where it all truly started.
5 Worst - Kane
By this point, Kane has done and seen it all in WWE, good and bad, but his last few years have definitely fallen into the bad column. Maybe the only saving grace for him is that he dropped the horrendous ‘Corporate Kane’ gimmick, but the return to the classic mask that made him famous unfortunately still couldn’t save him. While this isn’t all on Kane, as the booking team usually put him in matches with absolutely no meaning, the character was definitely over the hill a few years ago, and by sticking around he is doing more harm then good to his legacy. At the end of the day, most people will remember Kane fondly for his debut and Attitude Era run, where he was a legit monster, but these last few years, and 2016 especially have seen him fall far from grace, as he has been one of the worst performers the company has to offer.
4 Best – Shinsuke Nakamura
The world was shocked when the King of Strong Style announced he would be leaving his native Japan to come to WWE, especially since he did it immediately following a match of the year candidate with AJ styles, January 4th at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Since his arrival at NXT Takeover: Dallas, Swagsuke has gone on an absolute tear, becoming NXT’s most over star (hard to do with Tye Dillinger and Asuka on the roster), having amazing matches with Austin Aries, Sami Zayn and most recently, Samoa Joe. It seems like only a matter of time until the incredibly hard hitting King makes his way to the main roster, and is taking on the likes of AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, Cesaro, Seth Rollins and John Cena.
3 Worst – R-Truth
Coming into the year 2016, R-Truth was basically used as a comedy jobber in squash matches or multi-man bouts, but a ridiculous story culminating in a pairing with Goldust has had absolutely no positive effect on him. Not only is Truth a complete joke when compared with the rest of the roster, but he now gets more screen time in some of WWE’s worst and absolute cringiest moments. Don’t get me wrong, Trust is quite talented in the ring, as he always was, but the terrible booking year after year has worn him down to the point where he is basically worthless to the company, and that poor trend continued in 2016. As Vince McMahon loves his comedy (or at least his attempt at comedy, which no one else finds funny), we will probably be stuck with him for several more years, but it’s time to move on.
2 Best – AJ Styles
The Phenomenal One has been plying his craft in the world of professional wrestling since the dying days of WCW, and not many of his fans could have predicted that 2016 would be the year that Mr. TNA finally made his way to the WWE. Yet when the clock struck 0 for the number three entrant into the Royal Rumble, out emerged Styles to a raucous ovation, beginning his journey which has culminated in an outstanding WWE title win and reign. AJ has been captivating the crowd this entire time, and has stood out every match he is in, with opponents ranging from Roman Reigns to John Cena to Chris Jericho to Dean Ambrose. At an advanced age, expect WWE to take advantage of Styles potential, and have him play a key role in programming over the next 2-3 years.
1 Worst – The Shining Stars
Oh where to begin with the Shining Stars? The latest repackage of Primo and Epico began with somewhat exciting rumours, which speculated that they may be returning with Carlito, but what we ended up getting has been a complete disappointment since the beginning. Their whole gimmick is basically timeshare salesmen, and ever since their first appearance, fans have not cared one single bit. This effects their in ring game as well, because despite being solid competitors, fans just don’t care because of how dumb their whole gimmick is. With other cases like Darren Young or Titus O’Neil, there are ways that WWE can salvage them, but the Shining Stars are impossible to save at this point, and WWE are best just cutting their losses and letting them go.