Wrestling fans are a very opinionated group of people, a trait that has only grown with the world of social media. With WWE having had a record low year, 2015 has seen a lot of negative opinions of the product but not all is doom and gloom within the top American wrestling company. This past week has seen a serious upswing in quality, NXT has been a resounding success with critics and audiences alike, and the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley and their fellow women wrestlers had breakout years.
Sometimes opinions are hard to change but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't. Many of the top performers were once overlooked or even hated. Famously, The Rock was the recipient of "Die Rocky, Die" chants during his early Rocky Maivia stage. Mark Henry signed with the WWE in 1996 as a Olympic weightlifting gold medalist with no wrestling experience and it wasn't until 15 years later that his amazing Hall of Pain run that many fans realised the fact that he had become one of the greatest power wrestlers in WWE's history.
So which members of the WWE roster underwent the biggest improvements this year?
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Rusev struggled for a while this year. It was a questionable decision for Rusev to be separated from Lana, as the two had a great dynamic on-screen. However news of the two's real-life engagement forced WWE to reunite them on television and Rusev is better off for it. While Rusev doesn't always have the best match of the night, if given the right role, he has proven to be a very solid upper midcarder and there's no telling what Rusev could do in 2016.
11 Curtis Axel
The son of the legendary Mr. Perfect was often labelled the most boring man on the roster. However, after being eliminated from the Royal Rumble without ever actually entering it, Axel found a side of himself that even he may not have known he had. Proclaiming that 'Axelmania' was running wild in the WWE thanks to his record length of time spent in the Royal Rumble, Axel was one of the highlights of Raw on a weekly basis.
Unfortunately for Axel, this progression came to abrupt stop thanks to WWE pushing the Hulk Hogan part of the gimmick to the point of straight imitation. When Hogan's racist comments were leaked, Axel was promptly removed from TV as he was too far into the Hogan imitation for any damage limitation.
10 John Cena
There are few talents in the wrestling world as polarizing as John Cena. WWE's poster boy has earned his fair share of critics over the years thanks to his 'Five Moves of Doom', childish promos, and grip on the main event scene and world championships. The latter of which has been the point of some contention, now that he is one reign behind the legendary record of Ric Flair. Cena had a year to defy critics however, beginning with a strong contender for match of the year at the Royal Rumble in a Triple Threat with Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins.
It wasn't until WrestleMania though that fans really started paying attention. This decision, coupled with Daniel Bryan's injury, led to the launch of the United States Championship Open Challenge that saw Cena put his championship up every Monday night against any opponent who stepped up to him.
Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Zack Ryder, Dean Ambrose, Alberto Del Rio, Stardust and Neville are just some of the wrestlers who took the shot and had top matches with the champ. It also produced what many consider the rivalry of the year when NXT Champion Kevin Owens stepped up to face Cena in a heated trilogy throughout the summer.
9 Corey Graves
The former Sterling James Keenan, Corey Graves, had a promising in-ring career ahead of him with NXT and WWE. Unfortunately it was not to be, as it was announced at the end of 2014 that he was forced to retire from competition due to issues from repeated concussions.
There was a silver lining though, as Triple H had offered him a place on the commentary team to learn the art and perhaps still have a long-term future with the company. Graves has grown into his role significantly and is now one of the best announcers on WWE payroll.
NXT's commentary team gets a lot of plaudits and Graves is a big part of that. Filling the role of a traditional heel color commentator, Graves has a natural chemistry with Rich Brennan and a rivalry with Byron Saxton but, most importantly, these only serve to add to the analysis rather than distract.
8 Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss actually began 2015 on the shelf, but soon after returning from injury in March she achieved her then biggest moment in NXT - getting a shot at Sasha Banks' Women's Championship in front of her hometown crowd. Her underdog story didn't quite go to plan as Banks saw off the challenge and Bliss found herself back at the bottom of the pile with a sparkly gimmick that wasn't resonating strongly with fans.
Two months later, Bliss aligned herself with Tag Team Champions Blake and Murphy and in the process managed to find a groove that worked. As the new bitter woman obsessed with championship gold, Bliss has blossomed as a character and has become a top valet in NXT.
This progression has also crossed into her wrestling career too, with her new character giving her a purpose within the ring. This much was evident in her recent challenge of Bayley's Women's Championship. While she has fallen short in her shots at the title, her growth is evident for all to see.
7 Roman Reigns
There is little hiding the fact that Roman Reigns is the designated 'chosen one' in the eyes of WWE brass, a fact that has seen a hefty portion of the audience turning feral. But for those who don't think the man has improved at all since he was designated to this role, just take a look back to his final pay-per-view match of 2014 - against Randy Orton at SummerSlam. The match was a complete letdown, despite the immense reliability of Orton, and gave fuel to the fire building against Reigns.
This year began no better, as he returned from injury to rival with the Big Show before controversially winning the Royal Rumble. When fan backlash was so strong that plans to crown him were changed, Reigns finally got the motivation he needed to step up and produced a reasonable main event at WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar.
Since then, Reigns has been slowly improving culminating in a potentially career defining weekend as he had a good TLC Match with Sheamus before attacking Triple H, then the following night capturing the championship at punching Mr. McMahon himself to the delight of the crowd in the same arena that jeered him at the Royal Rumble.
He still has a lot of work to do on the microphone and some fine-tuning on his character, but there is no denying that Reigns has improved as a singles competitor this year.
6 Dash And Dawson
Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder were frequently used enhancement talent on the tag team scene in NXT and remained that way until July when they picked up their first televised win, surprising fan favorite team of Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady.
After truly announcing themselves to the world, winning would become a regular feature for the duo, who reached the semi-finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Tournament back in October. One month later and Dash and Dawson captured the NXT Tag Team Championships from the Vaudevillains and have reigned dominant ever since.
The two draw comparisons to Anderson and Blanchard and it is easy to see why. They may not be the flashiest or most exciting team on the roster but they have arguably established themselves as the best tag team around.
5 Tye Dillinger
Remember Gavin Spears? Neither did we. But back in WWE's revived ECW, then General Manager Theodore Long launched a 'New Superstar Initiative' and Spears was briefly a part of it. After making little impact, he was released.
In 2013, he would return to WWE under the new name Tye Dillinger. He would soon form a tag team with Jason Jordan, but with little chemistry and the teams appearances began growing more and more infrequent until the team finally split in February this year.
In August, Dillinger made a bold change as he started calling himself the 'Perfect 10', patting himself on the back for the smallest things and being generally narcissistic. Dillinger has thrown everything into his character and it is paying off as he has built quite a following.
4 Jason Jordan
As just mentioned, Jordan began his year as a part of the awkwardly paired jobber team with Tye Dillinger. After their split, Jordan began a hunt to find a partner he viewed as good enough to pair with him. A series of partners - including Mikaze, Sylvester Lefort, and Marcus Louis - all proved inadequate, and with fellow former amateur wrestler Chad Gable badgering him at every turn for an opportunity the two finally paired.
The team was an instant hit, not only scoring victories but quickly winning over fans thanks to the combination of solid wrestling ability and the sheer likeability of Gable and his catchphrase "Ready, willing and Gable."
The latter would be the real key to Jordan's personal success, despite it being his partner's act. Jordan's initial reluctance, almost to the point of disgust, slowly melted away as the two grew closer and have now reached a point where Jordan readily joins in. This transition has been reflective of Jordan himself, as he has grown a lot more comfortable and confident in his character and speaking ability alongside it.
3 The New Day
The trio of Xavier Woods, Big E, and Kofi Kingston were put together in 2014 after the three lobbied backstage to become a unit as none were being utilized on television. Despite the opinions of the three performers, when the idea was finally taken on board it was done so as preachers.
Unsurprisingly, fans didn't connect with the trio of endlessly cheery preachers but this presented a unique opportunity. Knowing that the post-WrestleMania Raw is one of the most rabid audiences of the year thanks to the hardcore international fans in attendance, the three men convinced management to turn them heel on the show to great effect.
Since then, New Day have arguably become the most entertaining act every single Monday night with their hilarious and unpredictable antics that have spawned several catchy chants, catchphrases and merchandise.
2 Dana Brooke
When Triple H announced the signing of bodybuilder Dana Brooke in early 2015 (despite Brooke actually having been contracted since 2013) it was met with a mixed reception at best. A lot of attention went into promoting Brooke and her bodybuilding accomplishments during weekly NXT broadcasts, and the idea of a bodybuilder with limited in-ring experience didn't sit well with the NXT audience.
Her televised debut in April didn't do much to sway opinion. Brooke did nothing particularly wrong but her lack of experience was evident, especially when compared to the hype that had been put behind her.
Wisely the NXT team released this and paired her up with Emma, who was looking to re-establish herself in NXT after an unsuccessful call-up to the main roster. Alongside the talented Australian, Brooke has undergone a huge development in both in-ring ability and her microphone work and the pair have become one of the cornerstones of the NXT women's division.
1 Baron Corbin
It has only been just over a year since Corbin emphatically announced his arrival in NXT at the Fatal 4 Way Event but he has seen quite an evolution during that time period.
The initial excitement around his quick dispatching of opponents began to wane after his highly anticipated clash with fellow undefeated wrestler Bull Dempsey, and after suffering his first defeats Corbin began a slow transition into a heel character in reaction to the fans turning on him.
The new arrogant attitude coupled with feuds with veterans Rhyno and Samoa Joe have seen Corbin find his footing with his character and show himself to be perfectly capable between the ropes - something fans had begun to doubt after such a long run of short matches. This development culminated at NXT TakeOver: London, where Corbin scored the biggest win of his career to date, seeing off budding star Apollo Crews and handing him his first loss in NXT.
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