Best of 2016: Most Improved Wrestler of the Year

A lot can change in the course of a year. Titles will change hands, people will turn face or heel and new memories can be made. All that being said though, the point is that wrestlers are supposed to get better, which is what we’ll be looking at today. We’re going to be looking at the most improved wrestler of the year, which can mean someone either getting better or being used better by the company. As usual, these are presented in no particular order.

1. Heath Slater

This is a case where it’s been about how the character is presented rather than the wrestling itself. Slater has almost always been at least a passable hand in the ring but he’s often little more than a comedy character, especially due to his time in 3MB. That being said, he’s still a comedy character but he’s gone from almost nothing on the card to a champion in 2016, which I don’t think anyone was really expecting.

The key change for Slater has been in actually having a story. This is all about showing the details behind him. Slater isn’t someone we knew that much about, save for him being a former boxer in West Virginia. With the introduction of his family, who were only mentioned and shown in a few segments, Slater has been rounded into a more well developed character and that’s the best thing for him.

Instead of Slater getting better in the ring, he’s gotten better as a character and that’s going to make people care about him far more than they would have otherwise. The fact that Slater was a champion in WWE in 2016 is astounding enough but the fact that people cared about him makes it all the more remarkable. That’s certainly an improvement and a good way to get things going.

2. Alexa Bliss

Now this one is a bit more interesting but again it’s almost all about the character development. Bliss certainly isn’t great in the ring but that’s never been the point to her. I know it’s easy to write Bliss off as eye candy and a passable wrestler at best but she’s turned into one heck of a performer and someone who belongs either near or at the top of the women’s division.

The key to Bliss is in her facial expressions. If you know your wrestling, you know that getting people to hate you is more important than anything you’re going to be able to do in the ring. What’s easier to hate than the gorgeous blonde who thinks everyone else is beneath you? That’s the character that Bliss has given us with just those eyebrows up looks where she basically says everything else here is worthless because it’s not something she’s done.

The “Smackdown Live” women’s division was made from scratch and it’s a major necessity to have some fresh talent brought into the mix. Bliss was called up from developmental a bit too early for most people’s tastes but she’s turned into one of the better developed characters on the show, which says a lot about someone whose in ring debut only came a little over three years ago. It’s been quite a year for Bliss and she’s more than met the challenge so far.

3. Braun Strowman

What a difference a character makes. This is a case where a lot of people are going to roll their eyes but think about it for a second. Strowman is a case where the best response comes from Shawn Michaels. Back at “Wrestlemania XIII”, Michaels was doing commentary on the main event and said Sid was going to stick with his power game because it was going to take him wherever he needed to go.

That’s where Strowman comes in as well. There’s no need for him to do anything more than the big power stuff and that’s what he seems to have figured out. Strowman has gone from any monstrous lackey for Bray Wyatt to one of the few consistently interesting things on “Monday Night Raw” every week. Above all else, he’s finally figured out that all he needs to do is use his size and power to dominate people instead of just running around behind Wyatt all the time. In other words, he’s been booked better and ran with it, which is exactly the point.

Strowman has benefited from figuring out how his character should work and that’s the best thing for him. It’s a very simple character and that’s the right way to book someone who doesn’t have a ton of experience and needs to learn how to work in the ring. I don’t think he’s ever going to become a great worker but he can become a great big man, which is all he really needs to be.

4. Baron Corbin

This is probably the frontrunner and someone very similar to Strowman. Corbin hasn’t been in the ring all that long and didn’t do much besides lay out NXT talent and beat them in about thirty seconds. Now he’s rapidly climbing the card and is coming off like a great bully character who can have a watchable match when he’s given the right circumstances. In other words, he’s learning on the job and turning into the performer that people were expecting him to be.

Corbin is the kind of guy who can become a big deal in a few years, based almost entirely on his look. If he can add in something resembling a personality and the work to go with it, he’ll be a star. This year showed some of the necessary progress and there’s a good chance he’s going to be ready to make the jump a bit sooner than he was expected to. Maybe it’s the coaching or maybe it’s being on the main roster but he’s certainly getting there.

I know there’s a long way to go and he’s going to need more than just a cool finisher but at least he’s getting better. The key there is to grow from the progress already made and thankfully that seems to be happening. Corbin looked like a star in the Smackdown World Title match on the year’s final episode of “Smackdown Live” and in theory, he should be able to grow on that. A few more wins should be enough to elevate him to a new level and that’s good for everyone.

5. Becky Lynch

It really is amazing how much a title reign can help someone. Lynch has been the woman who has never been able to put it all together. She’s the only member of the Four Horsewomen to never win the NXT Women’s Title and it was something that always hung over her head no matter what she did. At the end of the day, the other three were the ones that had the great matches and Lynch just happened to be the one in the ring with them, leaving Lynch as a bonus.

Lynch really was someone who needed a big win to establish herself as the star of the division. It’s pretty clear that she’s better than anyone else on the “Smackdown Live” women’s roster (including Nikki Bella) and is ready to be a big star. She’s a beautiful woman who can more than go in the ring but now she’s won something. The title win was what she needed and that’s what elevated her to the ace of the show status.

In the span of a few months, Lynch has gone from someone with a ton of potential to someone who has realized that potential. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say she could be ready to face Charlotte in a huge feud at the drop of a hat and now that she’s won something, you could believe that she might be able to pull off the upset. That’s quite the jump up in the span of a few short months and one heck of an improvement.

6. Charlotte

So how can she be the most improved when she was already pretty easily one of if not the best in the division already? Simply put, this year Charlotte has separated herself so far from the pack (save for maybe Sasha Banks) that it’s almost unfair. She’s just so much better than anyone else in WWE that she’s a mile ahead of almost everyone. Her matches have gotten even better and she’s doing it without Ric Flair running around in the background. What else can she really do?

That’s where the improvements have come in this year: she’s already great in the ring but now she’s starting to get better on the mic. Now Charlotte is turning into a dominant character and presence in the ring, which means she can put someone over huge when she actually loses on pay per view. The feud with Banks has done wonders for Charlotte and, as was mentioned multiple times during the buildup to their final match, iron sharpens iron. Giving Charlotte someone closer to her level helped build her up even more and she’s at the top of her game.

Charlotte is in a weird place as she’s already the best around and is getting better at such a rapid rate that she’s running out of realistic challenges. That makes things even more impressive for her as she’s getting better despite being above the competition, which is normally what makes you even better. The rest of the division isn’t miles beneath her but she’s running out of people who can really give her a run for her money.

7. The Miz

Next up is someone else who has always been good and is now even better than ever. Miz is an incredibly talented wrestler with his talking making things all the better. Couple that with the promo of his life against Daniel Bryan on the debut episode of “Talking Smack” and this was one of the best years of Miz’s career. Things might get even better in 2017 as Miz could be primed and ready for his second World Title reign and yes, he deserves it.

At the end of the day, Miz is someone who suffers from one major run dragging him down and never being able to come back from it. So many fans can’t seem to get beyond the fact that Miz was in the main event of “Wrestlemania XXVII” and was in WAY over his head with John Cena and the Rock around him. They were the focus of the match and that’s what people can’t get around: Miz not being as strong as two of the best of all time.

In the last few years and especially over the last year, Miz has grown up considerably with the awesome A-lister character. The in ring work is more than fine enough because the character is driving Miz everywhere he needs to go. He’s one of the best performers in the company and one of those guys you just want to punch in the face. Back in my day, that would make him a good heel but for some reason, a lot of people can’t seem to stand how great he’s really been this year.

8. Matt Hardy

If this was about most improved performer, this would be Matt’s award for probably the next three years in a row as the Broken Universe has taken off so strong that it’s almost unfair to everyone else. He just went insane (possibly literally) and there was no turning back for him. The big matches/segments (more on that in a second) were some of the most creative things I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately…..the were barely wrestling. I get what Hardy was going for with the concept as it was all about the insanity and showing off the creativity but really the big draw continues to be how insane the things could get. However, that doesn’t make them wrestling, which really hurts him in something like this.

This is a really rare case where I want to like what Hardy is doing (I certainly respect it, or at least I’ve grown to respect it) but things can only be stretched so far before it turns into a big mess instead of wrestling. Yes I know I sound like a snob but there are parts of this that I still have issues with on a wrestling show.

9. Eli Drake

Sometimes there are people that you just like and that’s the case with Drake. The guy is just entertaining to listen to and that’s what matters the most in wrestling. Drake might not be the best in ring performer (his finisher sucks) but he can command a microphone like few in TNA have ever been able to do and that’s worth far more than the ability to work a proper wristlock.

Drake just knows how to be an obnoxious jerk that you want to see get punched in the face. It worked for Honky Tonk Man, it works for Miz and it’s worked for dozens of others over the years. Drake is a master at getting a mic in his hands and working magic with it, which could take him very far.

Drake used to be in WWE and I could easily see him being back there again (he was only released due to some issues with social media) based on the improvements he’s made in recent months. Fact of Life has become a highlight for Impact and that’s a very rare thing to see on that mess of a show.

Overall though, I’m more amazed by Bliss’ development than anything else. She debuted on the main roster less than six months ago and she’s already one of the best women on the show. It’s amazing development in such a short amount of time and for me, the best improvement of anyone else this year.

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  1. Mike M. says:

    Can’t agree enough about on this one. Charlotte and Sasha might have had better matches, but Alexa and Becky had a better feud. I think a lot of the credit for that goes to Alexa’s growth.

    Jerichoholic94 Reply:

    I second this exact comment. I’ve always liked Bliss though even in NXT but I was worried they may have called her up too soon.. She’s decent in the ring but she’s no Charlotte or Sasha