Best of 2016: Wrestler of the Year

We’re down to the final series with the most important of them all: Wrestler of the Year. Someone has to be the biggest name with the best year and that’s what we’re going to be looking at today. WWE has had a great year and some very talented wrestlers put on a strong series of matches. As usual, these are in no particular order and again: I don’t watch much New Japan so there’s no Omega or Naito.

1. Sasha Banks

It seems fitting to start with one of the women. As great as Charlotte has been this year, I really can’t bring myself to say she’s been that much better than Banks. When the women were put into the new division around Wrestlemania season, it was Banks that the fans wanted to see. She’s been the most popular name in one of the best divisions of the year and that’s noteworthy.

The thing to remember about Banks is that while she’s only twenty four, she’s been wrestling for about six and a half years, putting her way ahead of Charlotte on the experience chart. Banks is also more interesting and had more steam coming up to the main roster, making her a bit more polished than Charlotte for a long stretch of the year.

Above all else though, Banks was right there with Charlotte every step of the way as they rocketed through the history books to become the most important feud in women’s history. These two main evented a pay per view together and it wouldn’t be fair to only give Charlotte praise and credit for doing so. Banks won just as many titles as Charlotte and that’s more than worth a spot on this list.

2. Charlotte

We might as well get this one out of the way now as Banks and Charlotte are basically joined at the hip more often than not. Charlotte showed that she’s one of the best female workers of all time and one of the best workers regardless of gender in wrestling today. She’s just so far ahead of almost anyone else in wrestling and it’s unfair to compare her to most of the female wrestlers in WWE.

I know it’s been harped on over and over but she and Banks main evented a pay per view. Really, that can’t be emphasized enough and the fact that most of the matches between the two of them were good made things even better. Charlotte has been praised by her father as one of the best female wrestlers of all time and for once, Flair actually seems to be accurate in his praise.

The fact that Charlotte has become someone people want to see is such a telling story. She’s become a star and just looks so natural doing so. Charlotte has only been in wrestling for a few years now and she’s already one of the best of all time. If she can stay this good for even longer, I’m really curious to see how far she can go because the sky is the limit.

3. Shinsuke Nakamura

This is an interesting one as Nakamura hit the ground at a full on sprint with an amazing match against Sami Zayn at “Takeover: Dallas”, went on to defeat Finn Balor and then went on to become NXT Champion by the end of the summer. After that things started to go downhill a bit as he traded the title with Samoa Joe before coming out with it again.

However, Nakamura hit the ground running so hard and was so much better than most of the roster for the majority of the year that it’s hard to argue against him being so high up on a list like this. The key here is that Nakamura comes off as a major star and just destroyed so many big NXT names. It was even better because someone caught up with him and gave Nakamura a great feud.

Nakamura seems destined for the main roster in a hurry and that’s a good thing. His signing back in January was one of the top news stories of the year and he’s certainly lived up to the hype so far. I’ve had a great time watching Nakamura kick and knee people very hard and when he’s on his game with someone who can hang with him, he’s one of the most entertaining acts in wrestling.

4. The Miz

I know he might not be the most popular but I’ve been very high on Miz for a long time and this might have been his best year yet. The guy just gets better and better and it’s very nice to see him get the recognition he deserves. His matches have been getting better and better and if you add in that whole promo of his life thing against Daniel Bryan on the debut of “Talking Smack”, it’s hard to suggest otherwise.

The big changing point for Miz might have been having Maryse return as his manager on the “Monday Night Raw” after “Wrestlemania XXXII”. There’s just something so easy to hate about a loudmouth who won’t shut up but has a gorgeous wife. The fact that it’s his real wife makes thing even better because while a lot of things might be fake, their marriage is real. How can you bare to stand him as a result?

All that being said though, it’s getting harder and harder for people to argue that Miz isn’t one of the best around. There are very few holes in his game and 2016 was more proof that he’s ready for the main event scene all over again. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he picked up another World Title this year and, much like the first time, he’s certainly earned it.

5. AJ Styles

If anyone is flat out ahead of Styles in this race, I don’t know who it is. Styles debuted at “Royal Rumble 2016” and took the company by storm. After a bit of a surprising loss to Chris Jericho at “Wrestlemania XXXII”, Styles was almost immediately in the World Title scene with a pair of great matches against Roman Reigns. Styles went on to defeat John Cena in back to back pay per view classics before winning his first WWE World Title.

This was a coronation after so many years spent toiling in TNA and then a few more taking New Japan Pro Wrestling by storm. Styles was widely considered one of the best of all time to never set a full time foot in WWE and once he got there, he was on fire the whole way. The debut at the Royal Rumble was one of the best moments of the year and he followed it up with classic match after classic match.

Styles has had one of the best years in WWE history and it should be amazing to see where he goes from here. At his age (he turns 40 in June) you can only get so much out of Styles and thankfully he’s doing some of his best work at the moment. I can’t imagine how good he’s going to be when he gets to be at the top of his game on the grandest stage of them all but 2016 was more than enough to earn the chance.

6. Samoa Joe

This is a great example of someone showing up in NXT and then waiting for the right moment before breaking loose like a runaway train. Samoa Joe debuted in NXT last summer and didn’t really do much at first. Eventually he got into a feud with Finn Balor and the two main evented “Takeover: Dallas” in an unintentional bloodbath. Samoa Joe would go on to win the title at a house show and then spent the rest of the year feuding with Nakamura.

The interesting thing about Samoa Joe is how different he really is than the rest of the NXT roster. Yes he’s a big guy and fights against people half his size but he comes off as a huge bully who can back it up in the ring. Not only did he beat Balor and Nakamura but he did so to become the first ever two time NXT Champion. For someone who is considered completely outside the NXT mold, it’s rather telling that he’s the first double champion.

What I like about Samoa Joe is you get what you see: a big guy who wrestles a power style but can throw in more submissions than he knows what to do with almost every time he’s in the ring. Couple that with some surprising athleticism and some GREAT promo work and it’s no wonder that he’s a star on the roster. If nothing else, he’s yet another name on the long list of names that TNA had and let go without much effort.

7. Kevin Owens

How can you not include the longest reigning WWE Universal Champion of all time? Owens might not be having the greatest ending to a year of all time but he was on fire earlier in the year. What started off as a pretty forgettable Intercontinental Title reign turned into a rekindling of the awesome Sami Zayn feud and wound up with him winning his first World Title after Finn Balor went down with an injury.

While Owens can go in the ring, he’s actually far better on the microphone. What I love about Owens is how he turns what should be mundane parts of a match into something either amusing or interesting. Who else do you know who can turn a chinlock into an event? That shows that he’s both thinking and putting in the effort while so many other people just lay there with the hold on and figure out what to do next. The wrestler’s job is to entertain the fans and Owens always seems to be trying to do just that.

Owens is a very interesting case and it’s a shame he’s been saddled with such horrible booking. He’s been the Raw World Champion for several months now and for some reason he’s been playing up to third fiddle on the show. Oddly enough he was better without the title but I have no issue at all with him holding the title this long. The guy is just good and there’s no other way to put it.

8. Chris Jericho

You can’t have one Canadian villain without a second (it’s a law or something). Every time you expect Jericho to be over the hill and running on fumes, he finds a way to reinvent himself all over again. With the power of something as simple as a list of names and things that get on his nerves, Jericho is putting on some of the most entertaining performances of his career at the rather advanced age (for wrestling) of 46.

Jericho is WAY past the point of needing titles but I wouldn’t mind seeing him win any title available to him. You can almost write the Jericho vs. Owens feud from here and given how much the fans are begging to cheer for Jericho, the reaction would be absolutely incredible when they hear that Owens just made the list.

If there is a wrestler who has turned himself into something fresh as many times as Jericho, I’ve yet to see them. Jericho is easily the most entertaining thing about “Monday Night Raw” at the moment and that’s been the case for several months now. He’s outshining everyone and the rest of his year has been incredibly strong as well with some solid matches to back up the talking. Not bad for a guy who debuted over twenty six years ago.

9. Asuka

I know she hasn’t had the most competition in the world but Asuka has run through the NXT women’s division (and some main roster women) like they’re not even there. I’m not sure who could possibly hold up against her strikes but it’s certainly fun to imagine someone having a chance against her.

The idea of Asuka facing off against some of the main roster women is rather interesting and that’s the best thing that can be said about her. Well, aside from the fact that she’s rather awesome in the ring and has a sweet entrance with a catchy theme song. I’m not sure how much else I can say about her but she’s made one heck of an impact with almost no one else being able to touch her.

The difference between Asuka and someone like Brock Lesnar is the simple fact that she doesn’t just do the same stuff over and over again. Let her go out and do her freaky strikes and then finish with either the Asuka Lock or even more strikes. Everyone comes out looking great and Asuka is on top of that list.

With all that being said, of course it’s Styles. It’s been Styles for months now and no one (save for MAYBE Jericho) really came close. When you add up the outstanding matches, great character development and awesome talking plus all the expectations that he had to deal with from the day he made his debut with the company, Styles has risen WAY above what anyone could realistically expect from him. He’s been nothing short of incredible this year and continues to surprise me almost every week. Styles is the wrestler of the year by a landslide.

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  1. comadre says:

    Obvious but good choice, think that no one can argue with that.

    I don’t really get Asuka as a nominee cause besides her bout with Bayley she didn’t have any great match in 2016. Owens is also someone i don’t see at the top. After an amazing 2015 he was booked really weak.

    Two wrestlers i would nominate: Sami Zayn & Dean Ambrose. From the top of my head they didn’t have an outstanding year but after thinking about their match history in that year i changed my mind. Zayn was part of three MOTYCs (vs. Owens at Battleground, in the 4-Way at Extreme Rules and vs. Nakamura) and in many other good to great Matches (vs. Joe, Owens and multiple multi men Matches). I think he sufferes alot from the dead main roster crowd as he was someone who could fire up the crowd in NXT. Ambrose was a work horse that year and maybe the only WWE guy that did have great matches at RAW, Smackdown and at PPVs.

    In terms of Indie/Lucha Underground i would nominate Zack Sabre Jr. and Ricochet/Prince Puma. LU also had something with Pentagon but they couldn’t get the best out of it…

  2. Prophet says:

    Sasha keeps getting hurt. At some point the fault lies with the athlete themselves.

    I can’t rank her over Charlotte who I think is much better on the mic at this point. I also think Charlotte has better facial expressions. Not as good as Alexa but still worth mentioning.