What a year it has been for wrestling fans. We’ve been treated to dozens of incredible matches, entertaining characters, and memorable moments, but in this year of amazing events, who in this wonderful industry claimed 2016 as their own? Here are my Top 15 Wrestlers Who Made 2016 Their Own.
For this list, I’ve taken into account what each wrestler has achieved since January 1st 2016, how popular they have been this year, and how those achievements compare to how their career was going previously. For example, somebody who has been winning world championships for the last few years is less likely to place higher than somebody that has won their first major championship this year. With that being said, let’s get started.
2016 Accomplishments – Undefeated all year; NXT Women’s Champion; only person to make a hip attack look dangerous; beat former WWE Women’s Champion Mickie James; ranked #3 in PWI Female 50.
Asuka has been one of the most dominant performers in the entire industry this year. It seems as though nobody is going to stop the Empress of Tomorrow any time soon. Well, that is until Ember Moon is ready to get a big push.
Her win-loss record and in-ring work speak for themselves. Anybody who is able to remain undefeated for an entire year is guaranteed a place of this list. Let’s hope 2017 is an even better year for Asuka, and possibly some main roster gold is in her future.
14. Marty Scurll
2016 Accomplishments – PWG BOLA Tournament Winner; signed to ROH; won ROH World Television Championship on his third night in the company; Progress Champion; managed to wear a fur coat in the PWG arena without dying from the heat.
He may not hold the Progress Championship any more, but considering he managed to win the ROH World Television Title on his third night in the company, clearly big things are on the horizon for the villainous one. In my opinion, Scurll is currently the best wrestler in Britain, and seeing him finally getting the success he deserves is extremely satisfying. Now he’s certain to take ROH by storm, and with a PWG Championship match on the cards for next year, I can’t wait to witness this villain take the wrestling world by storm in 2017.
13. Will Ospreay
2016 Accomplishments – NJPW BOSJ Tournament Winner; won ROH World Television Championship in his debut match for the promotion; signed to NJPW and ROH; became a member of Chaos; involved in a match rated five stars by Dave Meltzer; severely pissed off Vader; Progress Champion; ranked #16 in PWI 500.
It’s hard to think of somebody who’s risen through the ranks of the wrestling world in a shorter time than Will Ospreay. Last year, he was one of the hottest stars on the British scene, but in 2016, he has been the talk of the entire wrestling world. At 23 years old, Ospreay has already won major championships, has a five-star Meltzer match under his belt, managed to break the internet with his inhuman displays on athleticism, had a match with the legendary Vader, and has won the historic Best of the Super Juniors tournament.
As Ospreay gets more and more exposure in major companies, and he manages to do more and more unbelievable things inside the ring, it is almost a guarantee that a WWE contract is what’s ‘NXT’ for one of the hottest free-agents on the planet.
12. Samoa Joe
2016 Accomplishments – First ever 2x NXT Champion; defeated the longest-reigning NXT Champion in history; first man to defeat Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE; main-evented multiple NXT PPVs.
When you’ve beaten Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura to win gold within the space of twelve months, you know you’re having a good year. Sure, it’s not as if Joe has been short of a few good years in his career, but 2016 may be his best one yet. To be given the honour of destroying two of the company’s biggest stars, as well as being the first person to hold the golden X belt twice, it’s clear that WWE has big plans for the Samoan Submission Machine. Perhaps maybe in 2017, we will see Joe trade in that NXT gold, and join his old rival Finn up on the main roster.
11. James Ellsworth
2016 Accomplishments – Went from a complete unknown to being in the main events of multiple Smackdown episodes and Survivor Series; beat AJ Styles on a few occasions.
Okay, so James Ellsworth hasn’t won multiple titles, tournaments, or had a yearlong undefeated streak, but nobody has had a better 2016 compared to the previous year than James Ellsworth. This chinless man was almost a complete unknown last year, only working in the Baltimore area for small promotions, as well as running his own, Adrenaline Championship Wrestling. Yet in the summer of 2016, an unassuming squash match against Braun Strowman propelled this small-time local jobber into the limelight.
He was suddenly the talk of the internet – Ellsworth memes were appearing everywhere, and his squashing performance got the seal of approval from many famous faces, including Big Old Vinny Mac himself. I even wrote an article about how potential he had if WWE gave him a chance, and it was personally approved by the chin himself.
To the delight of everyone watching at home, Ellsworth randomly appeared once more on an episode of Smackdown back in September, and he hasn’t left since. During his short tenure in the WWE, James Ellsworth has been involved in many high profile matches, including one of the biggest matches at this year’s Survivor Series, and has even managed to beat WWE Champion AJ Styles on multiple occasions, albeit by dubious circumstances.
Last year, nobody had heard about James Ellsworth, but now, you can’t turn on WWE television without his strange little chinless face appearing all over it. Now that’s what I call claiming a year for your own.
10. The Miz
2016 Accomplishments – 2x Intercontinental Champion; arguably the best year of his career in terms of work quality.
I won’t dwell too much on how fantastically entertaining The Miz has been this year, after all, I wrote an entire article about it, but it’s hard to argue that in terms of quality of work, 2016 has been the best year of the A-Lister’s career. His in-ring work has seemed to improve drastically in the past twelve months, and his appearance on Talking Smack may just be the promo of the year. Personally, I believe Miz’s efforts have earned him the chance to be in the main event picture once again – a programme involving the A-lister chasing after the WWE Championship whilst rubbing his opportunity in the face of general manager Daniel Bryan could make for brilliant television. If his work-rate carries on like this, we are all in for a fantastically entertaining 2017.
9. Tetsuya Naito
2016 Accomplishments – New Japan Cup winner; IWGP Heavyweight Champion; IWGP Intercontinental Champion; practically a god; only man to make an all-white suit look cool; ranked #12 in PWI 500; involved in a match rated five stars by Dave Meltzer.
Tetsuya Naito always had a pretty decent position in New Japan: he won a mid-card title, a few tag titles, and even won the coveted G1 Climax tournament in 2013. But 2016 was the year Naito finally broke through to become the god-like heel he truly is.
As the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Naito has ruled over Japanese wrestling this year, and even managed to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship that has alluded him his entire career. He regularly disrespected the title by dragging it along the floor and flinging it down the entrance ramp, which is extremely frowned upon in Japan as it is a huge sign of disrespect, however, due to how effortlessly cool and popular Naito is, the crowd still couldn’t resist cheering him despite his dastardly ways.
Tetsuya Naito is not only one of the best heels in the world right now, he’s also one of the best wrestlers, as apparent by his encounters with Kazuchika Okada, Michael Elgin, Tomohiro Ishii, and his five star encounter with Kenny Omega. Also, his finisher, Destino, is one of the best in the business (and features on my list of the best finishers outside of WWE), and has been responsible for some of the biggest victories in Tetsuya’s career.
Any man that can win major championships, lead one of the most popular factions in wrestling, and make an all-white suit look amazing in the same year definitely deserves a place on my list. Considering he’s the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion, it looks like Naito’s success is bound to carry on into 2017.
8. Kevin Owens
2016 Accomplishments –Intercontinental Champion; Universal Champion; multiple PPV main events; one-half of the best friends in the world; ranked #6 in PWI 500.
Kevin Owens had a pretty good 2015 – he won the NXT championship, won the Intercontinental Championship, and beat John Cena clean in his main roster debut. Sounds pretty hard to top, but K.O managed just that.
Inside the squared circle, he put on some memorable classics against Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins, and on the microphone he was world-class as always, despite English being his second language. No matter what Owens is doing on WWE television, I am bound to be entertained. The Prizefighter managed to capture the biggest prize of all on Raw this year, or should I say, The Kevin Owens Show. Not only that, he also became involved in the best friendship in the history of the world, something we are all extremely envious of.
It looks like he may not have his best buddy by his side any more, but with that big red belt still resting on his shoulder, Owens is set to have his best year yet in the wrestling business atop the main event scene in WWE.
7. Finn Balor
2016 Accomplishments – Became longest-reigning NXT Champion; first ever Universal Champion; won a world title within first month on the main roster; number 5 draft pick; ranked #3 in PWI 500.
The Demon may have been injured for the last several months of the year, but that doesn’t mean that Finn Balor didn’t manage to claim 2016 for his own. Not only did he make history by having the longest NXT Championship reign in history, he also had his name written in the chronicles of WWE by becoming the first ever Universal Champion within just one month of being on the main roster. Clearly with the amount of hype and the monumental push he was given upon his arrival on Raw, WWE have tremendous plans for Balor, and there’s no doubt that if he wasn’t set back by injury, the former Prince Devitt would have placed much higher on this list.
In 2017, The Demon King will recover from his unfortunate shoulder industry, and will undoubtedly rise to the top of the WWE mountain once again, but this time, he’ll hopefully stay there for more than one day.
2016 Accomplishments – WWE Divas Champion; 3x WWE Women’s Champion; first WWE Women’s Champion; main-evented Raw and a PPV; won first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match; Ranked #1 in PWI Female 50.
2016 has been a historic year for women’s wrestling, and a queen has ruled over the proceedings for its entirety.
Considering the fact she’s been involved in so many important, landmark moments in women’s wrestling within just one year, it’s no surprise that the spawn of Ric Flair is already being considered by many as one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time. After just over one year on the main roster, Charlotte has climbed atop the women’s mountain and claimed it for her own. She casted aside that pathetic butterfly belt (thank god) in favour of something a little more stylish and a whole lot less demeaning, and has ruled over WWE in dominating fashion ever since. Her in-ring work and heel persona have improved greatly over the last twelve months, and if trends continue, the queen will reign over her kingdom for many years to come.
5. Chris Jericho
2016 Accomplishments – Arguably did the best work of his career; contender for Best Friend of the Year; retweeted an article I wrote about him (Thanks Chris!)
Once again, I’m not going to rattle on about how world-class Chris Jericho’s work inside the squared circle has been this year, as I’ve already written an article about that, approved by the man himself. Plus, there is no fan in the world that can deny that the man that holds the most-over list in wrestling has been on top form in 2016, and has turned the biggest of doubters into pure Jerichoholics.
Before this year, I had no real interest in the man from Winnipeg, yet his extremely entertaining ways this year inspired me to find out more about him, and look back at his career with a fresh pair of eyes, which made me realise that Jericho really is one of the greatest of all time. When someone’s work has been so undeniably good it can change your entire opinion of them, you know they’ve had a damn good year.
4. Shinsuke Nakamura
2016 Accomplishments – Signed by WWE; undefeated for 7 months; 2xNXT Champion; IWGP Intercontinental Champion; involved in some of the best matches of the year; ranked #7 in PWI 500.
Your god and mine, Shinsuke Nakamura, dominated in 2016. To the surprise of many, The King of Strong Style left his homeland for an NXT contract, which left many fans worried as they feared WWE wouldn’t treat Nakamura as the star that he is, and mainstream Western audiences may not take to him as his countrymen did. However, when he made his epic entrance at NXT Takeover Dallas, and had an instant classic of a match against Sami Zayn, the fears of fans around the world suddenly melted away.
NXT quickly became The Nakamura Show in 2016 – his signature swag oozed all over Full Sail, his brutally strong knees destroyed everyone within those yellow ropes, his matches stole the show every single week he appeared, and his perfect new entrance music invaded the ears of everyone watching (check to see where it ranked on my Top 15 Entrance Themes in WWE list). Although he may no longer be undefeated, Swagsuke managed to go unbeaten for an impressive seven months, and has captured the NXT Championship twice since April. With this amount of success, popularity, and undeniable star power, Nakamura is destined for more incredible years underneath the WWE umbrella.
3. Broken Matt Hardy
2016 Accomplishments – TNA World Champion; TNA Tag Team Champion; deleted Brother Nero; re-invigorated his career; innovated a new style of wrestling match; has the most loyal gardener in the world.
Very few wrestlers have completely reinvented themselves like Matt Hardy did in 2016. The former tag team wrestler finally emerged out of his brother’s shadow after almost twenty years by becoming one of the most entertaining characters in the business.
Broken Matt Hardy is a complete departure from the wrestler we once knew, Matt Hardy Version 2.0 if you will. I don’t need to go into any detail about the character itself or how consistently entertaining Matt has been because every wrestling fan in the world has been exposed to his broken brilliance this year.
The broken one turned the wrestling world upside down in July of this year when he premiered The Final Deletion, one of the most unique wrestling matches in history. With its unique style of presentation and innovative ideas, the DELETION of Brother Nero divided fans everywhere; some were calling it a masterpiece, whilst others thought it was an insult to wrestling. Whatever your opinion, it was different, and the difference continued throughout the year with The Hardy’s encounters with Decay, and Matt’s eccentric antics at the Hardy estate.
By completely reinventing his character and the idea of what a wrestling match can be, Matt Hardy changed the whole industry, and was the talk of the entire wrestling world. Unfortunately, I doubt Matt’s broken brilliance will carry on far into 2017, yet for now, every single moment of the wonderful world of Broken Matt Hardy has been TANTALISING.
2. AJ Styles
2016 Accomplishments – Signed to WWE; WWE Champion; beat-up John Cena; involved in some of the best matches of the year; main-evented multiple PPVs; ranked #4 in PWI 500.
If I told you this time last year that AJ Styles was coming to WWE in 2016, you’d probably call me an internet mark that shouldn’t believe everything that he reads. If I told you this time last year that AJ Styles was going to beat John Cena clean, main event WWE PPVs, and become WWE Champion in 2016, you’d probably accuse me of being on crack.
The success of AJ Styles really demonstrates just how much Vinny Mac’s House of Graps has changed for the better in just one year; the company seems to be much more open to talent that were popular elsewhere, and even allow them to keep their outsider names. Despite his famous ties to ROH, NJPW, and especially TNA, Styles’ popularity, phenomenal wrestling ability, and vastly improved mic work propelled him straight up to the top of the company that has alluded him his entire career.
To win a major world title in just nine of months of being in WWE is no small feat whatsoever, especially for someone who many thought would never even get a chance to be in the company. In 2016, the WWE became AJ Styles’ new home, and he completely took over. No WWE wrestler has owned this year as much as The Phenomenal One; let’s just hope 2017 is no different.
TJ Perkins: 2016 Accomplishments – CWC tournament winner; inaugural WWE Cruiserweight Champion; signed to WWE.
Dean Ambrose: 2016 Accomplishments – Money in the Bank winner; WWE Champion, Intercontinental Champion; ranked #9 in PWI 500.
Pete Dunne: 2016 Accomplishments – First PWG appearance; first BOLA appearance; had a match against Cody Rhodes; Progress Champion; OTT Champion; has some of the best merch available; been a damn good wrestler.
Sasha Banks: 2016 Accomplishments – 3x Women’s Champion; main-evented Raw and a PPV; involved in first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match; Ranked #2 in PWI Female 50.
Martin Kirby: 2016 Accomplishments – One of the most entertaining wrestlers in Britain.
The Revival: 2016 Accomplishments – 2x NXT Tag Team Champions; mastered the art of tag team wrestling; top guys.
Enzo and Cass: 2016 Accomplishments – Arguably one of the most successful transitions from NXT to main roster ever seen; currently one of the most popular acts in WWE.
- Kenny Omega
2016 Accomplishments – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion; became leader of The Bullet Club; formed The Elite; beat the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship; became the first gaijin to win the prestigious G1 Climax tournament; 2x NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion; pinfall victory over Kazuchika Okada; competed in NJPW’s first ever ladder match; earned a IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 11; pinned Nakamura in his final NJPW appearance; involved in a match rated five stars by Dave Meltzer.
2016 was the year of Kenny Omega.
Just look at that list of accomplishments, all in the space of twelve months. Talk about a breakout year.
Some may argue that Styles owned this year more than The Cleaner because he managed to accomplish so much within the biggest wrestling company in the world, and thus his title victories, etc were much more important, but when you look at the difference between 2015 and 2016 for both of these men, it’s clear that Kenny completely grasped this year tightly in his hands, and ran away with it.
Last year, AJ Styles was the biggest star in the world outside of WWE, leader of The Bullet Club, and IWGP Heavyweight Champion, whereas Omega was one of the lower-down members of said club battling for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title. Whilst becoming WWE Champion is a gigantic achievement, it isn’t that huge of a step up for The Phenomenal One compared to last year, yet for Omega, going from a junior competitor to leader of the most popular stable in the world, beating legends like Tanahashi, Okada, and Nakamura in the heavyweight division, winning multiple titles, becoming the first Westerner to ever win the prestigious G1 Climax tournament, and earning a IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at New Japan’s biggest show of the year within just twelve months is astonishing.
Before 2016, Omega could have easily been considered the most underutilised talent in the world, but now he is one of the biggest stars in the entire wrestling industry, and rightly so. Evidenced by his encounters with Tanahashi, Elgin, Goto, and his five star epic with the aforementioned Naito, Omega is one of the best in-ring performers in modern wrestling, as well as one of the best heel promos in the business, especially considering his ability to speak both English and Japanese confidently. Seeing how he’s one of the most talented, all-round performers, it really is a mystery why it has taken this long for a company to put a major spotlight on this incredible wrestler, but now it has finally happened to the rejoice of fans around the globe.
When it came to major victories and accomplishments, Kenny Omega ‘cleaned’ up this year, and considering the high possibility that he may win the biggest prize in Japanese wrestling on January 4th, he could be topping a very similar list to this at the end of 2017.
Who do you think owned 2016? Let me know by tweeting me @HairyWrestling or by leaving a comment below.