2016 has been a mixed bag for WWE. On one hand they have seemingly begun to change stale ideologies and have started to push wrestlers like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and AJ Styles whose wrestling ability overshadows their non-standard WWE look, but on the other hand the booking has still been hindered by the classic WWE 50/50 style where no one truly gets over. There have been some classic encounters that keep fans invested in the product, but at the same time the WWE’s typical ‘comedy’ style still shines through in matches such as the Golden Truth vs. Breezango, which only seem to be booked for the amusement of Mr. McMahon himself.
While the standard WWE has yet to fully undergo changes in the way they operate, the latest brand split has been announced and this is sure to break the mold and give fan favorites pushes they normally would not receive, and if booked correctly could be one of the best decisions the company has made in a long time. With that quick review of the year in mind, here are the WWE half yearly awards ranging from NXT to the main roster in the same style as the Slammys or Dave Meltzer’s Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
29 Best Announcer: Corey Graves
Runner up: Mauro Ranallo
One of the tougher awards to give, this is a toss up on personal preference between the two men that many hope and assume will be calling SmackDown together when it goes live next Tuesday, and two more opposite men you couldn’t get, which is good for the product. Graves has been calling NXT shows for the better part of the last 2 years since he was forced to prematurely retire due to injuries, and he has done nothing but improve the product in every way possible since. He puts the talent over in a believable and enjoyable way, and has an amazing chemistry with co-announcer Tom Phillips, and the duo add significantly to the atmosphere that every NXT show brings, the best example of which is the Nakamura vs. Zayn match at NXT Takeover: Dallas, which was made to feel like the biggest and most important match of both men’s careers due to the talent that Grave possesses.
27 Most Improved: Baron Corbin
Runner up: Alexa Bliss
Many stars could be a candidate for this list, but the improvement Corbin has shown in the ring, and his ability to play his character and work a crowd has been tremendous, and when the brand split comes, Corbin should no doubt be a big time heel on either show, and in a year or two, if his progression continues at this fantastic rate, he might find himself as a main event caliber heel. His 3 years in developmental after coming over from the NFL was a long road for the former golden gloves champion, but in the last year of his stint there he improved leaps and bounds, significantly helped by working with talented performers such as Rhyno, Apollo Crews and Austin Aries, and can handle a promo, and if he is given any significant story after the brand split, we may be looking at one of the brightest stars to ever come out of WWE’s developmental system.
25 Breakout Star: Enzo Amore
Runner up: Asuka
When a conversation about most charismatic star in WWE comes up, there is no doubting that after their WrestleMania call up, Enzo & Cass have to be right at the top of the list, and the driving force between that is the quirky and insanely charismatic Smack talker Sky Walker, Enzo Amore. The fans are absolutely in love with everything Amore does, and at one point in time he was considered just big Cass’ manager, but has really stepped it up in the ring since the duo’s feud with the Revival, proving that while the team may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they will be tag team stars for years to come, with Amore the true star. As long as Amore continues to develop his in ring game, his ability on the microphone will always be money, and with a somewhat tag team revolution occurring in the WWE, look for this talented duo to lead the way into the future, and look for Enzo to go down as one of the best talkers in the WWE history, all which started in the first half of 2016 on a true, global stage.
23 Most Underrated Wrestler: The Miz
Runner up: Becky Lynch
For years now, the Miz has been seen as a declining commodity in the WWE due to the emergence of many incredibly talented independent stand outs like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Neville & Cesaro, yet through his amazing ability to manipulate a crowd into utter hatred, he has managed to stay relevant in the WWE mid card, yet still never quite gets the recognition he deserves, and this has been obvious throughout the year 2016. While not the most gifted in the ring, Miz has worked hard during his decade long stint with the company, and has earned the respect of the fans and peers alike, yet no one can stand him, which is a true testament to his ability to portray his character, and in matches with Cesaro, Sami Zayn and others, Miz has proved that he can tell a story in the ring just as well as any other competitor on the roster, making him the most underrated wrestler so far in 2016.
21 Best "Oh My God!!!!" Moment: Shane McMahon At WrestleMania 32
Runner up: Enzo Amore Botch At Payback
This one really needs no description at all, but here we go anyway. It’s WrestleMania 32, two middle aged men are fighting in a Hell in a Cell match, and career dare devil Shane McMahon feels like he has to top himself for some reason, because competing in a violent match against a legend in the business who is 22-1 at WrestleMania for some reason just isn’t enough. Instead, the non-wrestler McMahon, who had been away from the business for 7 years decided to ascend the top of the 20ft high steel structure and leap off it, missing the Undertaker and going through a table, risking his life for the fans, as he has always done. There is no doubt that this incredible moment will be replayed for years and years to come, as it was the marquee moment which had the entire world talking from the biggest WrestleMania in the companies history.
19 Most Underused Star: Sasha Banks
Runner up: Cody Rhodes
Ever since their show stealing match at WrestleMania, Charlotte and Becky have been prominent on TV, and even with a minor injury, WWE creative have kept Sasha off TV, despite the chants of “We want Sasha” during a majority of the female segments on main roster television. While she has come back lately to set up a feud with fellow former NXT standout Charlotte, this lack of Sasha could have really hurt her in the long run, as apart from her participation in the WrestleMania feud, fans on the main roster haven’t seen the side of Sasha that the NXT faithful have, and this certainly could have contributed to backfire when she made her triumphant return, yet due to the overwhelming skill and character work she has, she was greeted like a hero. Hopefully in the yearly award version of this article Sasha can be recognized as one of the best performers of the year 2016, which looks to be the direction WWE are headed with their current Sasha/Charlotte feud.
17 Best Main Roster Debut: AJ Styles
Runner up: Enzo & Cass
Though it was rumored for weeks after he left New Japan Pro Wrestling, the sight of AJ Styles in a WWE ring, going up against champion Roman Reigns was still a sight to behold, which no long time wrestling fans ever thought they would see, as was evidenced by the amazing pop that the moment received from the WWE faithful in Florida. This fan fare is still following AJ everywhere he goes even 6 months after his initial debut, which has led to him being in many high profile matches in such a short time, which was necessary for WWE to capitalize on the last few years of AJ as we know him, and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Bottom line is, this could have been an absolute disaster if AJ came out to crickets (which he himself acknowledged was a very, very strong possibility), yet the fans knew him and absolutely loved him, and this shocking moment was the catalyst for the incredible year the former TNA and NJPW stand out is having.
15 Best PPV Event: NXT Takeover: Dallas
Runner up: Money In The Bank
Though not strictly a PPV event, more of a live event on the WWE network, there is no doubting that NXT’s WrestleMania, Takeover: Dallas was the most complete show under the WWE umbrella so far in 2016, from every perspective a fan can look at the event. From top to bottom it was filled with the best wrestling NXT has to offer, with many great moments like American Alpha’s tag team championship triumph, Shinsuke Nakamura’s goose bump worthy entrance and the dethroning of fan favorite Bayley, if you are a fan of NXT, this was the show for you, and it definitely outshone the main rosters WrestleMania. While NXT live events have been amazing consistently since they began, Takeover: Dallas took it to another level, and with the talent reportedly being raided for the brand split, who knows, maybe this could have been the last amazing Takeover event for some time.
13 Best Tag Team: The New Day
Runner up: American Alpha
As they have since they won the titles at last years SummerSlam, New Day continue to be one of the most entertaining parts of the Tag Team division, yet run the risk of becoming stale due to their overexposure and lack of competition within the division. Enter 2016, and the tag division has become one with plenty of competition from the Wyatts, the Club, Enzo & Cass and The Uso’s, yet New Day continue to prove that they are superior on the microphone and in the ring, continuing to reign as champions in an entertaining fashion despite all this new found competition. With this dominance the New Day take this half yearly award, but with the rising popularity of Enzo & Cass and the cracks starting to show within the group, who knows where New Day will be when the yearly version of these awards are released.
11 Best Comeback: Seth Rollins
Runner up: John Cena
After the 24/7 special that was posted on the WWE Network showing Seth’s amazing recovery from the devastating knee injury he suffered in late 2015, there is no doubt he wins this award after returning at Extreme Rules to a hero’s ovation (even though WWE insist on keeping him heel). This return furthered the Roman Reigns/Rollins feud which was truly beginning just as Rollins was injured late last year, and in his very first televised match back, Rollins pinned Reigns clean after a hellacious battle (Ambrose may have cashed in to become champion, but at least Rollins won clean). The Rebuild, Redesign, Reclaim tag line of Rollins return so far looks to be working, as he again is the top star in the company by far with his superior in ring skill and ever improving promo ability, Rollins is without a doubt the future of WWE.
9 Biggest Disappointment: No Enzo & Cass At Fastlane
Runner up: WrestleMania
The entire Fastlane PPV was not a disappointment, with a few good matches on the card, but the disappointment came due to fan anticipation, where the majority of the crowd expected to see Enzo & Cass debut to set up a bout with the New Day at WrestleMania in a segment with Edge & Christian. Unfortunately for these fans, they were greeted with the boring League of Nations who went on to an underwhelming feud with the Champions, which culminated in a boring match at WrestleMania, and the group found themselves broken up within a month following the big event. This is another example of WWE creative missing a sure thing that is handed to them to go with the more boring match up, but thankfully Enzo & Cass did appear the night after WrestleMania, and seeing the success they have gone onto with the fans so far, one can only imagine what a match up it would have been if the Realest guys in the Room did indeed debut in the lead up to the big show.
7 Best Feud: American Alpha vs. The Revival
Runner up: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
Many feuds in the year 2016 have seen memorable moments and matches, but none have been more consistent from an in ring perspective than that of American Alpha vs. The Revival in a classic for the NXT Championship, which for now should be over due to the rumored promotion to the main roster of the stand out amateur performers Chad Gable and Jason Jordan. The duo’s have had 3 matches to date, with AA winning the championships in Dallas, followed by losing them at Takeover: The End, both of which were classics, which led to the 2 out of 3 falls match on NXT TV, which signals the Revivals dominance and end of this thrilling rivalry. While Owens vs. Zayn and Styles vs. Cena have impressed so far, there is no doubt the culmination is yet to come, and by the end of the year there is no doubt that one of these could take the award, but for now, the tag team scene in NXT shining the way it does wins this award.
5 Best Female Wrestler: Charlotte
Runner up: Asuka
While fans clamor for the main roster debut and the resurgence of the Boss Sasha Banks, there is no doubting that their four horsewomen mate Charlotte has been the dominant female in the WWE, having great matches with anyone she crosses, including a show stealing Triple Threat at WrestleMania, as well as developing a fantastic heel persona which has made her the top female in the company. While her partnership with her legendary father Ric Flair was good for a time and helped her develop the persona we see on screen today, she has since broken out on her own (or with Dana Brooke… whatever) and set out to prove that she is the one to lead the women’s division into the future, much like what happened in her time with NXT. While Sasha may be coming for her title, and should take it from her at SummerSlam, there is no doubting Charlotte has put the women’s division on her back in the first half of 2016, which easily earns her this award.
3 Best Wrestler: AJ Styles
Runner up: Roman Reigns
While WWE in 2016 has been a year for stand out wrestling, none have stood taller than the man who made his much anticipated WWE debut at the Royal Rumble, the Phenomenal AJ Styles. Ever since his surprise entry into the match, Styles has not had a bad match, which has led to Vince McMahon reportedly now regretting not signing Styles 15 years ago, due to his amazing in ring ability and overwhelming fan support that he brings from his 18 years in the business where he has competed, and stolen shows all over the world. Though he has not won a singles title, Styles still warrants this award due to his amazing consistency, which has been evident in his last 3 PPV matches, where he has had 2 classics with Roman Reigns before out performing John Cena in a dream match that was 15 years in the making.
1 Best Match: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn
Runner up: AJ Styles vs. John Cena
Often one of the most debated and talked about category when talking about these type of awards, the debuting Nakamura and main roster bound Heart and Soul of NXT Zayn have left no doubt in the minds of WWE fans, at least through the half way point of the year. The two came into their match at NXT Takeover: Dallas with virtually no story line, and vast amounts of pressure to perform due to their respective in ring abilities, and the fact that they were on the same card as matches like American Alpha vs. the Revival, Joe vs. Balor and Bayley vs. Asuka, but boy did they deliver. The match combined an electric atmosphere with great anticipation, and right from the arrival of the King of Strong Style, fans in Dallas knew what they were watching was going to be historic, and from bell to bell the story telling, the spots and the character work from both men was basically flawless. Several false finishes later, Nakamura hit Zayn with the newly named Kinshasa knee strike for the 1-2-3, sending Zayn to the main roster as the hero he has been in NXT for the last 3 years, and solidified Shinsuke as a bonafide star in the WWE on his first night.
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