With the end of 2016 rapidly approaching, now is as good a time as ever to look back on what the year has meant for WWE fans. 2016, like all other years, has has its fair share of great moments, good moments, and horrible moments. There were moments that made us want to cry, like Daniel Bryan's retirement speech. And moments that made us want to throw up, like Anderson and Gallows' "Old Day" segment. Moments like Sasha Banks and Charlotte main eventing a PPV that made us proud. And moments such as the Brock Lesnar steroid allegations that made us cringe. All in all, 2016 has been a year to remember.
Before we know it, 2017 will be here and will present a whole new set of memories for WWE and their fans to sink their teeth into. So before we get to that point, lets take a look back at 8 things we loved, and 7 we hated about WWE 2016.
15 15. Love - Jeri-KO
I'm sure it's been said plenty of times already, but Chris Jericho's 2016 run is arguably the best of his entire career. Proving that he is truly the best in the world at what he does, Jericho was able to get his scarves, and a clipboard with a piece of paper on it (The List) more popularity than most of the Monday Night Raw roster. And pairing him with WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens has been a very successful move. The two have a chemistry that allows them to play off one another.
Perhaps the best thing about this pairing is the fact that although Jericho is a six-time World Champion, he knows that this angle, however long it goes, is about elevating the younger Kevin Owens. While Owens is a well traveled veteran in his own right, he still doesn't have many WWE years under his belt. So this angle has been a great way for both men to get what they need at the respective points in their careers. Hopefully us fans can continue to DRRRRINIINKKK IT IN MMMAAANNNNNNN!!!!!
14 14. Hate - James Ellsworth
Dear WWE, James Ellsworth is not funny. He's not entertaining. And we do not look up to him as an underdog hero like you have made him out to be. Quite frankly, I wish James would disappear from my TV forever. Ellsworth started off earlier this year as a jobber, getting crushed by Braun Stroman, and has somehow morphed into a man that has three victories over the WWE World Champion A.J Styles. Let's think about this for a second. John Cena, "The Face That Runs The Place," Mr. WWE himself, could not beat Styles in one on one competition. So the fact that Ellsworth has done it three times is an insult to all parties involved.
I'm not opposed to anyone getting a chance to chase their dreams, but at this point, I'm sure that Vince McMahon is the only one still laughing at the James Ellsworth joke.
13 13. Love - The Year of The Miz
In 2004 when The Miz debuted after the Tough Enough competition, I'm sure nobody gave him a real chance to be successful in WWE. After all, he wasn't even a wrestler. He came from MTV. But year after year, The Miz got better and is now one of WWE's most reliable veterans. And although The Miz is a former WWE Champion, there's no denying that this is the best year he's had with the company. Truthfully, Miz' awesome year (no pun intended), began after his wife Maryse made her return the night after WrestleMania to help Miz win his fifth Intercontinental title. Since then, he's competed in two Match of the Year candidates, (Fatal 4 Way @ Extreme Rules, vs. Dolph Ziggler @ No Mercy), helped make Dolph Ziggler relevant again, and cut arguably the Promo of the Year on Daniel Bryan back in August.
At this point in his career, The Miz has been with WWE for 12 years and is showing no signs of slowing down. 2017 could very well see The Miz in the World title picture.
12 12. Hate - The Direction of The Cruiserweight Division
Excitement was in the air for all the right reasons after this summer's Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network. The tournament introduced WWE fans to some of the best wrestlers from around the world. But since then, all the momentum from the summer has died, and here's a few reasons why. First off, how is it fair that during the Brand Split, Raw gets rights to the WHOLE division? Why not put half the men on Raw and half on SmackDown Live? Second, the WWE feels the need to always remind us that the Cruiserweights are wrestling by making the arena look like a Prince concert. We don't need the purple ropes and purple stage and the purple spotlights to know who's in the ring. Third and most important, why did the WWE feel it was necessary to tell the Cruiserweights to not wrestle in the style that made them famous? Why are we seeing more headlocks than high flying?
205 Live premiered after this Tuesday's Smackdown, and hopefully it can be used effectively to regain some of the momentum that has been lost over the last few months.
11 11. Love - The Direction of The Women's Division
In a complete 180 from the Cruiserweight Division, the Women's Division has been handled near perfectly. 2016 has been a huge year for the women of WWE and it's honestly been a long time coming. The first great decision was made at this year's WrestleMania when the company decided to get rid of the awful Divas title in favor of the Women's Championship. The move was symbolic of a new era in women's wrestling and they've been rolling ever since. There is great depth in the division on both shows which has made 2016 probably the greatest year ever for the women.
Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella, and Alexa Bliss are doing great work on SmackDown Live. And the women of Raw continue to tear it up. Highlighted by the first ever Women's Hell in a Cell match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks, the Women's Division will most likely carry this momentum into the next year.
10 10. Hate - Roman Reigns' Push
I do not dislike Roman Reigns as a man, or as a wrestler. I'm actually a fan of Reigns, as I'm sure most others are. The problem is that WWE claims to listen to the fans, but isn't listening to the fans. Let's start from the beginning. Reigns was booed against Triple H. Booed against A.J Styles. Booed against Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Booed against Rusev. And is now being booed against Jericho and Kevin Owens. In fact, Reigns has been heavily booed every night for the last two years or so.
The problem here is that WWE knows this. But instead of not pushing him down our collective throats, they try to change the narrative. Reigns is now seen as a John Cena type superstar that "always gets a reaction from the WWE Universe, whether you love him or hate him." That kind of thinking allows WWE to be lazy in his booking and not try to figure out a way for fans to actually cheer him. In essence, he's not a good guy, he's not a bad guy, he's Vince McMahon's guy.
9 9. Love - The Rise of NXT
People who don't know about NXT by now, are seriously missing out. The brain child of Triple H is rapidly growing into it's own commodity, if it isn't already. What was once known simply as a developmental brand, has turned into a wildly successful attraction. The great thing about NXT is there isn't a risk of over exposure. One show a week, and one pay-per-view every few months helps to keep things fresh. NXT has also been the landing place for many of WWE's top signings this year. Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Eric Young, and Austin Aries have all been signed to the NXT in 2016 and there's no doubt that more are coming.
Although NXT is still a WWE commodity, it has the feel of a young upstart company that will be huge one day. As long as Triple H stays in charge of the product and doesn't allow it to turn into just another failed WWE project, NXT will continue to grow and develop into 2017.
8 8. Hate - The Misuse of NXT Call Ups
Although WWE has been good to a few of the NXT call ups this year, I'm sure there a more than a few NXT talents hoping not to get that call. 2016 has seen quite a few Superstars called up to the main roster, and for the most part they've been wasted or are on the verge of getting fired. Finn Balor is an exception to this, as he was called up during the Brand Split and immediately became the very first Universal Champion. However, there's only one Finn Balor and most of the other call ups haven't shared his success.
The Ascension and The Vaudevillians could have been viable tag teams on either show, but instead are on the verge of being let go. Sami Zayn has become irrelevant for the most part. Tyler Breeze has become a joke. And Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin are both flopping like two fish out of water. Basically, if your name wasn't Finn Balor, Enzo Amore, or Colin Cassidy, you should've stayed in NXT for a little while longer.
7 7. Love - A.J. Styles
It's going to be a little difficult to be objective about this one because I've been a huge fan of A.J. since I saw him in TNA in 2003. So needless to say, no one was happier than myself when he debuted at the 2016 Royal Rumble. Conversely, no one was more upset than me after it looked like his WWE career was going to be a flop after three straight PPV losses to Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns. Since then however, it seems as though Vince and the rest of the creative have realized that they have a gem on their hands because Styles has had arguably the greatest rookie year in WWE history. Styles holds two victories over John Cena, has won the WWE World Championship, and is capable of putting on a five star match every time he steps in the ring. It's hard to find fault with anything that Styles is doing.
WWE fans never thought they'd see A.J. in WWE in the first place. So the fact that he's not only here, but also being used to his full potential, is a win for all parties involved.
6 6. Hate - Daniel Bryan's Retirement
Before James Ellsworth, we had Daniel Bryan. A true underdog who won our hearts with his in ring prowess and passion for the wrestling business. Unfortunately, Bryan has had some tough breaks over the past few years. After winning the WWE title at WrestleMania XXX, Bryan suffered an injury that caused him to give up the gold. Exactly one year later at WrestleMania 31, Bryan won a Six-Man Ladder match for the Intercontinental title, but more neck and nerve damage sidelined him again. Through this time, Bryan and fans alike held out hope that we would one day he Bryan in the ring again, but it was not to be.
On February 8, 2016, Bryan announced on Twitter that he would be retiring immediately due to medical reasons. In a farewell speech that rivaled the retirement speech of Edge in pure emotion, Bryan revealed that he needed to retire or risk permanent damage or death by trying to compete. Although it's completely understandable why he had to retire, I'm sure Bryan and all his fans would rather see him as a wrestler, rather than a general manager. This was truly one of the sadder moments of 2016.
5 5. Love - Match Quality
WWE seems to be a little confused on what they want their true identity to be. Back in the day when they identified as a "wrestling" promotion, they had more entertainers like Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin who didn't really have great matches. Now that they identify as a "sports entertainment" promotion, their matches are better than they've ever been. The match quality in 2016 has been outstanding all across the board and WWE fans truly have a reason to chant "this is awesome" as often as they do.
All of NXT is tearing it up. The Heavyweight, Women's, and Tag divisions have all seen classic matches this year. And on the main roster, Styles, Rollins, Cesaro, Miz, Ziggler, Owens, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, etc. are all capable to putting on jaw dropping performances on any given night. WWE has been blessed with an extremely deep pool of talented wrestlers and it would be foolish not to continue to take advantage of this in 2017.
4 4. Hate - Brand Split Rosters
Back in 2002 during the first Brand Split, Raw and SmackDown ended up taking on separate identities. Raw became the show you watched if you wanted to see the big names. Triple H, HBK, Ric Flair, Booker T, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, etc. And SmackDown was the show for if you wanted to see the wrestlers put on good matches. Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Edge, Chris Benoit, etc. Whether intentional or not, this was how the roster split. Fast forward to 2016, and it seems like there was a deliberate effort to make Raw seem like the true "A" show. Raw ended up packed with the better main event talent, better tag teams, better women, and the entire Cruiserweight division.
To its credit, SmackDown has established itself as the better show in the eyes of the fans, similar to how it did 14 years ago. Stars like Randy Orton, John Cena, A.J. Styles, and Dean Ambrose have made sure that SmackDown isn't the weak link of WWE. If there is another draft next July, WWE should attempt to make sure the rosters are a little more evenly balanced. Even if that means cutting Raw back down to two hours.
3 3. Love - Championship Relevancy
It can be said that there has been a real effort in 2016 to make the championships relevant and credible again, and it has worked for the most part. Except for maybe the Cruiserweight Championship, every other title has meaning, a feud behind it that makes sense, and a champion that legitimizes it. The Universal title picture is a little shaky, but we have to cut it some slack because if not for the Finn Balor injury, he would likely still be the champion and bringing real value to the title. Both women's championships have immense value and the rivalry between Charlotte and Sasha is one that will likely go down as a landmark moment in women's history. And just look at the New Day. They're on the verge of breaking Demolition's record of 478 days as champions.
WWE has proved that they want their titles to matter because we've seen a large cut back on wrestler's throwing the belts around and treating them like props instead of rewards. Now if only we can get Roman Reigns to stop carrying his United States championship on his shoulder like a gym bag.
2 2. Hate - Too Much Authority
When I saw we hate too much authority, I'm not referring to the group of Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Corporate Kane. I'm referring to the fact that there are too many on-screen authority figures in general. For example, when have we ever seen an on-screen General Manager, and Commissioner in power at the same time? It's usually one or the other. And it's worse that there are two on each show. If you add Triple H and/or Vince McMahon that can show up at any moment, that makes six. And William Regal in NXT makes seven. Why do we need seven different authority figures on TV?
Further more, after losing his chance at running the show at WrestleMania to The Undertaker, why is Shane McMahon still allowed to run a show? And can we at least get through one episode on Monday Night Raw without Stephanie McMahon emasculating one of the men on the roster? In NXT, the authority figure angle with Regal is working because less is more. He's not in multiple segments. The storylines don't revolve around him. And he only intervenes when he needs to. Raw and SmackDown should be taking notes.
1 1. Love - The Rise of The Indy Star
WWE has truly broken away from the mold that they've used for their product in 2016. If we travel back to the year 2007, we'll find Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles in TNA. Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura were in New Japan Pro Wrestling. And Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins were in Ring Of Honor. Who could've ever predicted that all of these men would be World champions in WWE just nine years later? WWE has truly changed for the better because guys like the ones previously mentioned would've never even been looked twice at had they been around in the '80s, '90s or early 2000s. Typically, the WWE prototypical wrestler was a huge, often steroid using, larger than life character. Vince McMahon thought that "that indy style of wrestling will never get over." And look where we are now.
After realizing how popular CM Punk and Daniel Bryan became, WWE slowly started to figure out that fans really wanted more of that. And 2016 has been a great year for wrestlers from independent circuits coming to WWE. I fully expect WWE to continue this trend and continue to scour the independent circuit for more hidden gems that should've been signed a long time ago.
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