Wrestling in 2016 has for the most part been good, and although WWE has definitely had its valleys, its also had some major peaks. We saw many stars debut in both NXT and WWE, and saw some great talent graduate from developmental to the main roster, most of whom will be pivotal to the future of the company.
Some fans have loved the work WWE has done this year, while others have been left thoroughly disappointed. Whatever your feelings may be about this soon-to-be-over year, most would agree that it looks like the company has the potential to go into 2017 with a hot product that could reinvigorate the world of wrestling, specifically WWE.
This list will be a follow up to my list at the midway point of the year, as we look at performers, moments and events that are worthy of celebrating from the year 2016.
Here are 15 awards for WWE 2016.
15 Best Brand: SmackDown
Ever since the brand split back in July, WWE have had some good moments, but the overall booking and week-to-week product have been sub par at best. With its three hour format, RAW has been incredibly sluggish, as getting through them has felt like a marathon. The authority figure involvement and treatment of the cruiserweights have also been horrendous. Despite its minor flaws, this has meant that Smackdown has been the more enjoyable and consistent show. The rivalry of Miz and Dolph Ziggler has been a standout, and the resurgence of Heath Slater was a big story early on, but mostly this is due to the overwhelming brilliance of AJ Styles and his first WWE Championship run. They may struggle in 2017 due to lack of top stars (especially baby faces), but early on SmackDown has been the clear winner.
14 Biggest Disappointment: Draft Night
Big disappointments have become the norm in modern day WWE, as many people see Vince McMahon’s booking style as sub par, where he actively aims to disappoint the majority of his fan base. This year, it has improved a fair bit, with only a few things that come to mind, but the biggest is without a doubt the first draft night in this new WWE brand split era. The night was supposed to usher excitement and unpredictability back into the WWE, but it was about as average and bland as any other Monday Night RAW episode. Fans expect surprise returns, big debuts and excitement, but were met with nothing but an average draft system and bickering between authority figures. Hopefully if this becomes an annual thing, WWE can figure it out for the future.
13 Best Pay Per View: Survivor Series
WrestleMania was a huge disappointment, and fans had somewhat become used to sub par PPVs because of the lackluster story lines and characters who are placed where they shouldn’t be (sorry Roman Reigns, you’ve improved, but shouldn’t have main evented WrestleMania). This can’t be said about Survivor Series however, as it was an enjoyable show from top to bottom, with one of the biggest shocks in recent wrestling memory sending it off the air. RAW won the traditional survivor series matches 2-1, and all three were fantastic, engaging matches, that made it seem like a good rivalry is possible between the brands, but that wasn’t what made it memorable. Going off the air, Goldberg absolutely decimated Brock Lesnar in 85 seconds, destroying all of Lesnar's credibility and aura, and though some may not like an old performer getting this win, it certainly was a bold, enjoyable way to cap off a great PPV.
12 Best Feud: The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler
There have been many good feuds in WWE this year that have produced many phenomenal matches, but only one feud has had the impact that this one has. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler started when Miz cut a now famous promo on Daniel Bryan, and when Ziggler was inserted into the picture, the feud heated up and took off. The matches haven’t disappointed in the least either, with their first bout at Backlash being the highlight of the show. Some may not like this, as Miz has used his wife Maryse perfectly, which makes him a great heel, and it has given the fans a reason to cheer for Dolph Ziggler again. Whatever happens with their match at TLC (come on Miz!), this rivalry has been a considerable highlight of Smackdown’s product since the brand split.
11 Best Tag Team: The Revival
The New Day have been getting a tad repetitive, American Alpha has slowed down on Smackdown and Enzo & Cass haven’t won any big matches, leaving only one true contender to this crown, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder, The Revival. The two have just been getting better and better, and it seems the big stage brings out the best in the old school duo, as they have had great PPV (or special, live events) matches with Enzo & Cass, American Alpha and most notably, DIY. They have improved on the microphone also, cutting a great promo on DIY during the Dusty Tag Tournament, and with a great, unique, throwback gimmick, the duo should be able to get over big time when they finally (hopefully soon) ascend to the main roster (fingers crossed for Smackdown).
10 Best Announcer: Corey Graves
Corey Graves won this award at the mid way point of the year, and no announcer has stood up and excelled to the point where anyone else but the Savior of Misbehavior deserves it. He has now begun to work both RAW and NXT, and was also on the first episode of 205 LIVE, and in each role he has excelled, enhancing the product while also providing entertaining commentary. As we have seen before, having Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon in your ear can completely ruin everything that makes you entertaining (unfortunately we’ve seen parts of that in Mauro Ronallo’s game so far), but for the most point, Graves has stayed true to what made him great. Unfortunately, not even the greatness of Corey Graves can make Michael Cole and Byron Saxton bearable, but one step at a time.
9 Best Debut: Shinsuke Nakamura
AJ Styles had the best surprise debut of the year (unless you read dirt sheets, which you probably do), but in terms of the best match to enter into WWE, that goes to the King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura. He first appeared in the lead up to NXT: Takeover Dallas, where he was announced as the surprise opponent for Sami Zayn, and fans were ecstatic from the get go. Then came the fateful night in Dallas, in front of the most electric NXT crowd in recent memory. The two put on a masterful performance, and the crowd were thoroughly invested in it from the start until the final Boma-Ye (now known as Kinshasa). If ever there was a way to introduce yourself to fans who didn’t know you, this way the perfect storm.
8 Biggest Moment: Shane-O-Mac at WrestleMania
This was another one that retained their award from the mid way point, because it was simply one of the most jaw dropping moments in wrestling history. We all knew that Shane McMahon was crazy, and would do anything for the fans, but one last big match at wrestling’s biggest event proved that fact. During his match with The Undertaker, the Boy Wonder ascended the cell, only to miss on the dive that will be remembered as his biggest wrestling stunt of all, and that’s saying something. There have been other moments like the return of Goldberg, but this one is just simply one of those things you don’t see every year, and that’s what makes it worthy of retaining this award for the year 2016.
7 Most Undervalued Performer: Sami Zayn
When Sami Zayn graduated to the main roster, fans knew that WWE had a perfect, mid card, baby face star on their hands, that could work his way to the top of the card, but in similar fashion to Cesaro, Zayn has been underused time and time again. Someone of his storytelling abilities with such a likeable character could be playing the top face on either brand currently, but has been limited to missing PPV’s constantly, and a feud with Braun Strowman that isn’t being highlighted by WWE. It’s about time that WWE realized what they have with these stars, and especially with the brand split they need to focus on Zayn, Neville, Cesaro, Rusev and others to deepen the roster, but until that happens, the ratings will continue to flat line.
6 Best Return: Goldberg
When WWE announced that Goldberg would be a special attraction playable character in WWE 2K17, many fans remembered back to Sting and The Ultimate Warrior, and wondered if the WCW legend would ever make his way back to WWE, and late in 2016, they got their wish. After an interview on Sportscenter, Goldberg returned in front of his family to a raucous ovation, to tell the entire world, that not only was Brock Lesnar next, he was also last. This was without a doubt one of the best segments on RAW all year, and it came across as a genuine, emotional moment, which the crowd definitely responded too. Hopefully all of Goldberg’s moments in WWE create this kind of buzz, especially when the Royal Rumble heads to San Antonio, with both these men involved.
5 Best Female Wrestler: Charlotte
It looks like Sasha Banks will end 2016 as the WWE RAW Women’s Champion, but there is no doubting the Queen of the women’s division has stood head and shoulders above the rest. On top of that, it can be argued that she is the top heel in the entire company, as she, along with maybe two or three other performers draw genuine boo’s, as heels like AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are still loved by a majority of the audience. Despite being forced to work with dead weight in Dana Brooke, Charlotte has continued to improve, and her Pay Per View winning streak is incredibly impressive. Overall, Bayley and Sasha Banks may have more potential (depending on who you ask), but ever since the graduation of the Four Horsewomen, there is no argument as to who the best of the bunch has been in that time.
4 Most Improved: The Miz
Coming into the year, Miz was just an arrogant heel character who barely occupied the mid card, and even the first few months of his title reign were average, but when he dropped a pipe bomb style promo on Daniel Bryan live on Talking Smack, everything changed. Suddenly, with his wife Maryse by his side, the Miz character was one of the deepest and most well rounded in wrestling, and fans had to tune in to see what the A-Lister would do next. Since that time, his rivary with Dolph Ziggler has been fantastic, and his continued bickering with Daniel Bryan has suddenly given hope to a return for the fan favorite. Whatever you previously thought of the Miz, you can’t argue that he has improved way more than anyone else in the WWE, and he is primed for a 2017 main event run.
3 Breakout Star: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens began the year feuding with Dean Ambrose over the Intercontinental Championship, and after losing it, and his later feud with Sami Zayn, he moved on to challenge for the vacant Universal Championship. After interference from Triple H, Owens became only the second holder of that Championship, and he hasn’t let go of his firm grasp on the title since. While his booking has been overshadowed by the Triple H story, and the complete lack of follow up, and also the re emergence of Chris Jericho and his list, Owens has shown that he fits in rather nicely in the main event scene. How long he remains there is yet to be seen, but 2016 WWE took a chance on Kevin Owens, and thus far it has completely paid off.
2 Match of the Year: DIY vs. The Revival (NXT TakeOver: Toronto)
There were a plethora of amazing matches on NXT, RAW and Smackdown this year, but none were more brilliant from an all0around stand point as the 2 Out Of 3 Falls battle that took place at NXT TakeOver: Toronto, featuring Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson as The Revival up against Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa, DIY. The match was back and forth, and with a quick Shatter Machine, The Revival found themselves up 1-0, with the underdogs looking seriously in trouble, and the crowd ate it up. From there it was anyone’s ball game, with the back and forth action being non-stop until DIY tied the bout at 1. What happened next is quite possibly the best tag team chemistry in wrestling history, as the duos traded near fall after near fall, until finally The Revival simultaneously submitted to DIY, crowning them Tag Team Champions. It was not only an arguable match of the year, it is possibly the best tag team match WWE has produced in decades.
1 MVP of WWE: AJ Styles
Not many fans would have thought that Mr. TNA would be in WWE in the year 2016, but the man has outperformed what any doubters thought possible, and proved to all his loyal supporters just how right they were in following him. From incredible matches with Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, John Cena and Dean Ambrose, Styles has barely missed a beat since arriving from over a decade in TNA and a stint in New Japan Pro Wrestling. AJ has morphed into the arrogant heel persona he perfected in Japan, and he has been carrying the Smackdown brand with it ever since. This may be problematic, as the brand is severely deficient of top level baby face talent, but for the year 2016, none were as consistently brilliant as the Phenomenal One.