2016 has been a long, eventful year for the WWE. We saw the company head into a more wrestling-centric direction as opposed to the sports entertainment template they've produced for decades now. They've done so by bringing back the Cruiserweight division, reinvigorating the Womens division, and focusing more on in-ring ability than the show business model of old. We also saw the return of the brand split that produced shocking World Champions in Kevin Owens and AJ Styles. Speaking of the international superstar, we saw Styles debut in a WWE ring this year and become the WWE Champion in a span of 9 months. We saw other surprising talent acquisitions in the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, and even James Elsworth. We saw all three former members of The Shield flourish at the top of the WWE food chain. We've seen plenty of twists, turns, match of the year candidates, and unforgettable moments that will still be talked about decades from now. As many improvements and innovations that WWE have created this year, that is not to say that WWE has not fumbled and dropped the ball a few times this year.
We can spend all day praising all of the right things that WWE has done right this past year, but we cannot neglect to mention that they have done a lot of wrong as well. If that haven't done wrong, then there were certainly times this year where they missed a great opportunity to go into a different direction with their programming. Whether WWE just didn't see the full potential in an alternate decision or they were just too stubborn to change directions in favor of pre-determined plans, here are a few times from 2016 where WWE missed big opportunities.
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20 Black Sheep vs The Beast at WrestleMania
In 2016, WWE was building towards Bray Wyatt vs Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32, but Wyatt sustained an ill-timed injury right before the big show. Instead, Lesnar demolished Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania while Wyatt and his entire Family got squashed by The Rock and John Cena. The change of plans didn’t exactly benefit The Wyatts' credibility at all. In hindsight, perhaps it would have made more sense to give Bray's opportunity against Lesnar to The Black Sheep of The Wyatt Family, Braun Strowman. Sure, Braun was unproven as a competitor at the time—in many ways, he still is—but considering Strowman current winning streak, it wouldn’t have hurt WWE to let Braun beat Lesnar’s streak. Some say that Lesnar’s streak has been wasted at the hands of Goldberg (don’t worry, we’ll get to it), but it wouldn’t have been wasted if they gave that big rub to Strowman at Mania. Plus, considering the Wyatts cost Lesnar his Royal Rumble win earlier this year, Lesnar still had unfinished business with them. Lesnar beat Harper the month before at Roadblock, no one wants to see Lesnar destroy Rowan, and so Strowman would've been the next in line to step in for Bray.
19 Zack Ryder’s Push
An AT&T Stadium audience of 101,763 (maybe less, depends on who you ask) all stood in shocked unison upon seeing Zack Ryder climb atop a ladder and retrieve the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 32. There was a fraction of broskis who watched the man fall from grace during his initial 2010-11 push that thought his Mania win was the start of a career resurgence for him. Then he lost it the next night to The Miz and then all was back to normal. As awesome as The Miz's IC run has been, one can't help but think that the WWE dropped the ball on not bringing Ryder back to prominence. It's easy to say that the ship has long sailed on a Ryder push, but the same could be said for Heath Slater, who admittedly has had an even more downhill battle with his booking. Not only did Slater receive a push this year following his WWE Draft snub that led to him becoming one-half of the first ever Smackdown Tag Team Champions, he's been receiving massive crowd ovations every week ever since this summer. If the One-Man Rock Band could rise from his WWE booking slump, the same could’ve happened for Zack Ryder had WWE capitalized on his Mania moment.
18 Xavier Woods: Wyatt Family Member
At the start of the summer, The New Day entered a feud with The Wyatt Family where The New Day faced their biggest challenge at that point. Not only as Tag Team Champions, but also as a cohesive unit that has finally found their moral values of positivity challenged. Woods found himself gravitating towards the mysterious aura of Bray Wyatt and his family. There were strong allusions that Woods could turn on his tag team partners and join the Wyatt Family. Of course, nothing came of the angle as The New Day stayed on Raw, The Wyatt Family were drafted to Smackdown, and all was back to normal after The Wyatts beat The New Day at Battleground. But imagine if WWE went all the way with this angle. Imagine if Woods turned on his buddies in favor of helping The Wyatts win their titles. Imagine the months of an ongoing program where Woods' former friends try to bring him back where he belongs. This had the potential of an angle that could build all the way to WrestleMania with Woods reuniting with Kofi and Big E to a thunderously positive ovation. Just imagine it. What a program this could have been.
17 Dean Ambrose Wins WWE Title at Roadblock
This year's Roadblock (the March live event broadcast, not the upcoming December pay-per-view) promised major Wrestlemania implications. Those implications implying that by the end of the night, the main event especially would be drastically shaken up. Those implications turned into empty promises when Triple H retained his WWE Championship against Dean Ambrose and the Wrestlemania main event pitting the King King of Kings against Roman Reigns remained intact. Considering how the Mania main event didn’t receive the warmest of receptions—the crowd turned on it without having a fan favorite to cheer for—WWE were better off shaking some things up by having Ambrose win and go on to face Reigns. It would’ve been better received if only for the fact that the past between the two already set up a ready-made story. Plus, since Reigns failed to win fans over, the small change of making Ambrose the show’s reigning and defending WWE Champion would’ve given the crowd an easy face to cheer for back when Ambrose was at his hottest. Of course, if WWE didn’t want to go this route, there is always a Plan B…
16 Ambrose & Reigns' WrestleMania 32 Booking
It's safe to say that neither Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose would call WrestleMania 32 the highlight of their careers. Ambrose got slammed up and down Suplex City while Roman Reigns got booed out of the building despite winning his 3rd WWE Championship in the main event. As previously mentioned, things may have been better for both competitors if they faced each other in the main event instead. However, another option may have been for these two to just switch opponents. Put Dean Ambrose in the WWE Championship main event as a challenger to Triple H (moving up their Roadblock match opposed to giving it away at a live event) and give Reigns a Mania rematch against Brock Lesnar. This would've done two things. One would give the crowd an actual fan favorite in the main event. This also would have allowed WWE to do what they originally planned the year before and that is to have Reigns beat Lesnar, which without a title on the line is less risky to pull off. This would've been a win-win for both Reigns and Ambrose.
14 Tommaso Ciampa Heel Turn
WWE had two opportunities this year to have Tommaso Ciampa turn on his tag team partner, Johnny Gargano. The first came when Gargano defeated Ciampa in Round One of the CWC Tournament only to later lose to TJ Perkins in Round Two. The second came at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II when DIY lost an NXT Tag Team Championship match against The Revival that saw Gargano tap out. Both post-match segments teased Ciampa turning heel, but nothing happened. Perhaps it was for the better as the two proved to be a better tag team than anyone anticipated—there’s a reason why they are now NXT Tag Team Champions—but anyone familiar with Ciampa’s singles persona from the Indies may feel like WWE should have split the two regardless. In ROH, Ciampa proved to be a vicious psycho killer character; like a more extreme version of Orton’s Viper gimmick. Letting Ciampa embrace this character in NXT would have made for entertaining television, especially when paired with Gargano. As excellent as the two are as partners, their CWC match proved they have even more chemistry as opponents. Maybe a turn is still in the cards for 2017, but 2016 could have easily been the year of Ciampa if WWE pulled the trigger.
13 Gallows & Anderson
On the April 11th, 2016 edition of Monday Night Raw, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson entered the WWE riding a wave of momentum from being an internationally successful tag team. The former IWGP Tag Team Champions and Bullet Club alumni were expected to take WWE's tag team scene by storm, but in due time, their roles in WWE quickly diminished as a credible unit. It wasn't long after their debut when Anderson and Gallows starting finding themselves playing lackeys in AJ Styles' feud with Roman Reigns. Gallows and Anderson would take pinfall losses against The Usos on a weekly basis. Their booking improved afterwards, but when it came time for the duo take on The New Day for the Tag Team Titles, they went from being booked as legit badasses to comedic, ball busting doctors who frequented weekly cringe-worthy segments. Before their sudden character change against The New Day, the two had potential to be WWE's next top heel team. Now it'll take a miracle to take them seriously as champions after all those ball promos.
12 Dana Brooke Face Turn
Admittedly, the idea of Dana Brooke as a face is a strange one to imagine. After all, Dana Brooke excels in the role of a schoolyard bully type of heel who just gets under your skin. So why turn her face? Well, throughout 2016, WWE have hinted on and off that Dana Brooke may finally stand up to her arrogant mentor, Charlotte, and every time the moment is teased, it receives a huge ovation from the crowd. Dana Brooke straying away from her mentor appears to be something that people want to see and there's a ready-made story there just waiting for the trigger to be pulled. There was actually a rumor not too long ago claiming that WWE were planning a big face turn for Dana Brooke, but ultimately decided against it. For the sake of the story alone, WWE should've tested the waters with Dana Brooke as a face and put her in a program against Charlotte. Plus, if for whatever reason she struggled to connect with fans as a face, they could've had her revert to a heel when the program was over.
11 The Cruiserweight Division
The Cruiserweight Classic tournament seemed like an innovative start of a way to bring something fresh to the WWE. Not only because of the tournament itself, but also with the promise of the Cruiserweight Division returning to Raw and the mushrooming of brand new Cruiserweight talent to the main roster when the dust had settled. But alas, as with most things WWE related, the Cruiserweight's addition to Monday Night Raw sounded a whole better on paper than in its execution. It was clear from the get-go that WWE had no idea how to book the Cruiserweights. Every week, the Cruiserweights were lumped together in drawn out 6 Man Tags while the initial Champion of the Division, TJ Perkins, was booked as a cheeseball of a babyface. This barely scratches the surface as far as the problems with the Cruiserweight Division, but among other issues, this new Division simply lacked direction. WWE realizes this now as their trying to rectify things with the new Cruiserweight series, 205 Live, but it's too little too late. The Cruiserweight Division had potential to breathe new life into WWE's weekly programming, but bad booking has badly hurt the division before it really had a chance to get going.
9 Darren Young: Great Again
Ok, maybe Darren Young being great "again" is a bit of a stretch—cue the “when was Darren Young ever great?” jokes—but there’s no reason why WWE couldn’t have started this year to finally make him great. They gave him the slogan, they gave him Bob Backlund—who has proven to be a thoroughly entertaining addition to Young’s act—but WWE Creative never put any real effort into making Darren Young great. Giving Young little to no storylines and having him win matches by sheer dumb luck does not constitute to greatness. Young has enough natural athleticism that he could make for a convincing adversary on his own merits. We haven't even seen Young on WWE TV since Raw's Halloween episode and it feels like not enough of Young has been showcased to WWE audiences to warrant his repackaging. Not only would properly putting stock in Young have made him a new star, it would've made him the LGBTQ star who WWE desperately want to market. Stephanie McMahon did claim awhile back that WWE were trying to incorporate more positive LGBTQ characters into WWE programming. They've already got one, they just don't want to push him. And they should.
7 Draft Call-Ups
This past summer, when WWE re-implemented their brand split that made their Ruthless Aggression Era so exciting, the WWE Universe were ecstatic for the new potential that resonated in the air for the WWE Draft. Namely all of the NXT stars that were bound to get called up. With a developmental roster filled with main event caliber superstars like Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Shinsuke Nakamura (just to name a few), WWE had plenty to choose from. While Balor did manage to get himself called up, other call-ups managed to be rather underwhelming. The remaining 5 NXT call-ups were Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, Mojo Rawley, Carmella, and American Alpha. While these are talented young stars—especially Bliss who has made the most out of her call-up, most recently becoming Smackdown Womens Champion—its hard not to think WWE dropped the ball in not calling up the bigger NXT names who were more than ready for the call. It especially looks strange in the realm of kayfabe for WWE's GMs to choose drafting Mojo Rawley onto their brand oppose to someone like Nakamura or Joe. More than anything, WWE missed the opportunity to dramatically shake things up by littering their brands with fresh, top talent.
4 Roman Reigns Heel Turn
It feels like WWE has had endless opportunities to turn Roman Reigns heel. It's slowly turning into one of those dream scenarios for Reigns to turn heel, but no matter the scenario, WWE should have ran with one of these opportunities given to them to turn Reigns heel. Not because of the reaction he gets (even if it would make sense to go along with his consistent boos by giving fans a reason to boo) but looking back at his heelish performance against Seth Rollins from Money in the Bank, he would be the perfect heel. Just judging by the trash talk and the man-handling of his former Shield brother, Reigns is at his most comfortable when trying to get a negative reaction from the crowd. Or better yet, just feeding from that negative reaction, given the cocky winks and smirks he gives crowds nowadays when he's on the mic and receives a roaring boo. Reigns is clearly at his most confident when he's being booed so why not turn him into a heel character who doesn't care about his reaction? Making him a cocky monster heel would've been best for business in 2016.
3 Styles vs Cena SummerSlam Finish
When John Cena and AJ Styles first started feuding with each other back in May, it was all about Styles needing to get past The Face That Runs The Place before taking a top spot in the company. Styles would do just that with two back-to-back singles victories over Cena; the feud culminating at SummerSlam. After the match, a mentally beaten Cena perplexed the crowd around him by removing his wristband and leaving it in the middle of the ring before exiting. The world would spend weeks trying to decipher what this could symbolize. Especially since just a few months beforehand, at WrestleMania, The Undertaker left his gloves in the middle of the ring before leaving, which has been historically symbolized as an act of retiring. People weren't sure if Cena's act signaled his own retirement, a set-up to face Taker at next year's Mania, foreshadowing a heel turn or character change, etc. Sadly, it would be none of the above as Cena returned less than a month later as the same lovable, catchphrase spitting, Make-A-Wish kid kissing, crowd grinning son of a gun he always was. Turns out that SummerSlam act was just a way to write Cena off to film a TV show. Bummer; it could've been so much more.
2 Brock’s Streak
Bet you thought this would be number 1, didn't you? To quip the WWE Network series of the same name, you've been swerved! Just like we were all swerved at WWE Survivor Series 2016 when Brock Lesnar was defeated by an almost 50 year old Goldberg, returning to the ring for the first time in 12 years, in under 2 minutes. In terms of shock value and playing to Goldberg's strengths, this was the best way to book the match and proved to be an excellent moment that was executed to perfection. Still, it's hard not to think to ourselves in the back of our minds just how much of a better rub this would've been for a young star. Granted, the number of WWE roster competitors ready to carry the company into a "New Era" following a win over Lesnar are few and far between. It's slim pickings as far as looking for WWE's next box office superstar after Lesnar, but just imagine how this same scenario with a younger competitor could've made a new instant mega-star.
1 The Wyatt Compound
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all saw TNA's Final Deletion special match between "Broken" Matt Hardy and his brother, Jeff Hardy. The match was littered with carnage that included a drone, a dilapidated boat, and the brothers firing fireworks at each other. This was undoubtedly a match that divided audiences; either you loved it or you hated it. One thing that can't be denied is just how the match had the whole wrestling world's attention and had everybody talking. The match even had WWE Creative's attention as they made an all too obvious attempt to duplicate the match's success with New Day meeting The Wyatts at their compound for a skirmish. Disappointingly, not only did the fight fail to even touch the template set by Final Deletion, it failed to be entertaining in the slightest. The reason why so many people enjoyed Final Deletion is because it was so unapologetically balls-to-the-walls. The brothers knew how ridiculous their special was and decided to go all the way with it. Wyatts/New Day was just a run of the mill brawl that was too afraid reach the levels of insanity that the Hardys went through.
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