If you haven’t already, check out part one of this list by clicking here.
10. The Rise of the Demon
Considering the fact he’s the longest reigning NXT Champion in history, one of the most popular wrestlers in recent years, has a unique, awesome, demonic look, and is extremely talented between the ropes, it’s not really a surprise that WWE were planning on pushing Finn Balor to the moon once he was promoted to the main roster, yet I still didn’t anticipate how meteoric his rise would be.
Within just over one month, Balor went from an NXT superstar, to Raw’s third overall draft pick, to the first ever person to win a WWE world championship in their main roster PPV debut. Sadly, in the title match against Rollins, Balor suffered an unfortunate shoulder injury that suddenly derailed his seemingly unstoppable momentum, and had to relinquish the title the next night on Raw.
If Balor’s injury never occurred, I’m certain he would still be holding the big red belt to this day, and his rise to the top would rank much higher on the list, however even in the short amount of time before his labrum was torn, the Demon King made such a monumental impact that I couldn’t deny him a spot in my top ten, and I look forward to the impact he is going to make when he makes his long-awaited return.
9. We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Room…
The popularity of British wrestling has exploded in recent years; as each twelve months passes by, more and more promotions are created, more and more fans are attending, and more and more historic shows are happening, and this year was no exception. 2016 may in fact be the best year for British wrestling in over thirty years. In the last twelve months, we’ve seen Progress play to over 2000 fans in London, the aforementioned WCPW play to over 2000 fans in Manchester, and ICW play to over 5000 fans in Glasgow, one of the biggest crowds in independent British wrestling history.
With more historically large shows already planned for 2017 by many promotions on these shores, it looks like British wrestling is destined to get bigger and bigger as the years go by.
8. The Brand Split
When the brand split was first announced, I really didn’t know what to think – on one hand it could have potentially brought new life to WWE’s television shows, and it could stop the same wrestlers being given TV time twice a week, which in turn would give lesser-used talents more air-time, whereas it could have also completely watered down the talent pool available on each show, causing segments to be dragged out and poor quality programming overall. Thankfully, my fears were put to rest…for the most part that is.
The brand split has given me a reason to watch both main shows once again. While the quality of Raw hasn’t exactly shot up since July, Smackdown is a completely different programme, and now surpasses the company’s flagship substantially in terms of quality. The storytelling on Smackdown is superb, every single segment means something and progresses an element of the show, the women’s division is miles ahead of Raw’s, and every minute is used effectively. Don’t get me wrong, Raw is still a great show most of the time, but the vastly improved quality of Smackdown is definitely my highlight of the brand split.
Another great benefit of the brand split is the flood of talent now inhabiting the main roster. NXT stars were called up, old stars were brought back, and a chinless man became the most unlikely main-eventer of all time. Whilst some didn’t exactly set the world alight, others have absolutely excelled since their main roster call-up, specifically Carmella and Alexa Bliss. The amount both of these women have improved in such a short time is incredible, and they are both definite standouts on Smackdown for me.
It’s not just the television shows that have benefitted, the PPVs seem to have improved too. Many of us worried that more PPVs would mean a decrease in standards, yet in this case, we seem to have gotten the best of both worlds, quality and quantity. Post-brand split PPVs have been filled with fantastic matches and storylines, including the unexpectedly great Survivor Series, which was one of the best shows of the year.
I’m uncertain as to how long the brand split is going to carry on being a positive in the WWE, but at least for now, it has caused nothing but great things to happen.
7. The Breaking of Matt Hardy
I’ve already written about how fantastic the broken one has been in 2016 in my list of people who made 2016 their own, but seriously, who isn’t putting Matt Hardy on their highlights of 2016 list? The man has practically re-invented wrestling with the spectacles he put on this year, he’s created one of the most entertainingly strange characters of all time, and he’s got the greatest chant in wrestling right now.
Matt Hardy becoming broken is arguably the best thing to ever happen in the former tag team wrestler’s prestigious career. A complete reinvention of his character has resulted in one of the most entertaining gimmicks I have ever witnessed. I’m not sure how long it will take for Hardy to be fixed once again, but personally, I hope he remains broken forever.
6. Chris Jericho Just Made my List!
Once again in this list, we have another star who completely stole the show this year that I have previously written about. Chris Jericho has had the best year of his career in my opinion based purely on character work and entertainment value. His current WWE run has been so outstanding; it forced me to completely change my mind about him, and resulted in me writing an entire article about him, which the man himself gave his seal of approval.
Jericho returned to WWE with brand new catchphrases, brand new ideas, and a brand new list, and it resulted in pure magic. The man from Winnipeg spoiled us wrestling fans with a wealth of unforgettably great moments, and he definitely proved why he has the initials G.O.A.T on the back of his trunks.
5. The Year of Kenny Omega
There’s a reason why the leader of the Bullet Club placed so highly in my list of the people who made 2016 their own; just take a look at all of his accomplishments in the last twelve months:
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.
Given how long and impressive that catalog of achievements is, there is no debating that this has been the year of Kenny Omega, and considering he has a match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on January 4th 2017, there’s a substantial chance that the next twelve months will be belong to The Cleaner as well.
4. Women’s Evolution
Although it was certainly long overdue, women’s wrestling, particularly in WWE, made monumental leaps and bounds in 2016. Sure, the treatment of women in wrestling still is not exactly perfect, and the sexist nature of this industry sadly won’t disappear anytime soon, yet in the last twelve months alone, we have seen: women now actually being referred to by their gender in WWE, rather than as “divas”; the insulting pink butterfly belt replaced by a much more beautiful, much more respectable strap; the first woman (Sexy Star) to win the Lucha Underground Championship; the first woman (Kimber Lee) to win the Chikara Grand Championship; a women’s match be the main event of Raw for the first time in over a decade; the first ever women’s hell in a cell match; the first ever female Ironman match on the WWE main roster; some of the best matches of the year involving women, including the historic triple threat match at Wrestlemania, and a gauntlet match on Lucha Underground that involved Pentagon Dark and the Black Lotus Triad; and most importantly, women treated with respect, and as actual competitors.
There are still many improvements that need to be made, and many hurdles that must be overcome, but at least for now women’s wrestling is in the best place it has ever been thanks to the events of 2016. I’m hoping that this time next year women’s wrestling will have progressed even further.
(If you want to check out some awesome women’s wrestling matches that you may not have seen, check out my recommendations.)
3. Influx of Talent into WWE
Here is a list of just some of the talent that have been signed by WWE, or have appeared in the company for the first time, in 2016: Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, Jack Gallagher, Kota Ibushi, Rich Swann, Luke Gallows, Tommy End, Roderick Strong, Austin Aries, Zack Sabre Jr., TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, Drew Gulak, Eric Young, Bobby Roode (GLORIOUS!), Lince Dorado, Shane Thorne, Nick Miller, Noam Dar, Big Damo, Akira Tozawa, Gran Metalik, and AJ Styles.
That is one incredible list.
Considering I’ve written an article entitled Five Reasons why the CWC is the Best Thing to Happen this Year in Wrestling, it’s probably no surprise to some of my long time readers that the Cruiserweight Classic places so highly on my list. As I’ve already written at length about how perfect this spectacle was, I’ll try to keep this brief, although it will be difficult not to get carried away considering how much I loved it.
The CWC was different to anything else WWE had ever produced: it was filled to the brim with unsigned independent talent (only one entrant at the time was signed to a full WWE contract); it had a completely different presentation and feel to any other WWE show; the commentary provided by Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan was overflowing with passion and wrestling knowledge; it featured some of the best matches and storytelling in the entire wrestling calendar in 2016, including the highly acclaimed Alexander vs Ibushi, and the flawless Ciampa vs Gargano; it was responsible for bringing the Cruiserweight division and a brand new accompanying title to Raw; it’s popularity led to a weekly Cruiserweight-exclusive show on the WWE Network; and most importantly, it resulted in a wealth of extremely talented individuals to be signed to the biggest wrestling company in the world.
Thanks to the CWC, grapplers such as Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, Akira Tozawa, and Brian Kendrick were given the chance to display their abilities to the world. Talents from around the globe, some familiar with fans, some almost complete unknowns, gathered to produce possibly the most entertaining series of wrestling matches I have ever witnessed, and without the remarkable work these 32 men put in this summer, this fantastic year of wrestling would not be the same whatsoever.
When I think of wrestling in 2016, I’m going to think of change. The wrestling world is completely different compared to twelve months ago, and this wonderful sport is all the better for it.
In January of this year, we saw AJ Styles, a man known around the world and strongly associated with companies such as NJPW, ROH, and TNA, made his surprising WWE debut with his name still intact. Usually, WWE are reluctant to sign those who have such strong ties to other major companies, particularly TNA, yet they set aside their ways for The Phenomenal One despite his former reputation. Not only that, they short him straight into the main event scene, gave him multiple world title matches, had him beat the face that runs the place clean at Summerslam, and put their prestigious WWE Championship around his waist. They even started using his logo on his ring gear and merchandise that he’s had since the final days of his run in TNA! If at any point before 2016 somebody told me that Styles would not only sign to the company that alluded him his entire career, but would hold their biggest prize and beat their biggest star, I would have thought that was a dream too good to come true, but thanks to the changing ways of 2016, it was fantasy turned into reality.
The big signings weren’t over for WWE in January though, not by a longshot. In the coming months, we saw huge names such as Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, Eric Young, and others sign with the company, all with their names still intact, and all made big impacts upon arrival. WWE even signed a complete unknown in James Ellsworth to a full-time WWE contract purely based on how fans reacted to him after what was supposed to be a one-time appearance. Also, we can’t forget the fact that over the summer, WWE gave 29 unsigned cruiserweight talents (plus Swann, Ciampa, and Gargano) the chance to perform on a worldwide platform without any guarantee that they would be signed, and with their independent names still present. They even partnered with independent promotions such as Progress to hold qualifying matches for the CWC, something unheard of before 2016.
Another big change in the wrestling world this year was the treatment of women, as I have previously discussed. No longer are we subjected to ‘divas matches’, instead we just watch women’s wrestling, and I think we can all be thankful for that. Of course there are many improvements that still need to be made, however the changes regarding the treatment of women that have been made in the last twelve months alone are extremely significant.
It’s not just in WWE that things have changed though. In 2016, we saw the creation of WCPW, New Japan crowning the first gaijin winner of the G1 Climax tournament, British wrestling growing to heights not seen since the early 80s, among many other things. The entire industry is evolving, and if this form of entertainment that we all adore continues to adapt for the better, 2017 is going to be a very exciting year.
What were your personal highlights of 2016? Let me know in a comment below or tweet me them @HairyWrestling.
For more end of year lists, click here.