With another year of WWE action in the books, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. We’ve seen quite a lot in a year – the brand split, the debut of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura’s arrival to NXT, Goldberg’s return to WWE, The Miz dropping a new age pipe bomb on Daniel Bryan, the Cruiserweight Classic, so on and so forth. You get it. But, the question I’m here to answer is simple: which WWE superstar had the best 2016?
The rules are simple….kind of. It’s not about pure kayfabe, work rate, or overall greatness as a wrestler. I tend to operate in the gray area in between all. To make this list, a wrestler had to have the right combination of kayfabe success (championships, prominence on the card), a good work rate (sorry part-timers), and just overall enjoyment (if this was the primary metric, Sami Zayn and Rusev would top the list every year). So, take a deep breath – here we go!
10. Samoa Joe – Something about Samoa Joe just screams, “main event.” He struts out carrying the ‘big fight’ aura with him no matter if it’s an everyday episode of NXT or the biggest TakeOver event of the year. He’s shelled out quality main events with every foe he’s come across, but particularly, his feuds with Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura have felt bigger than any rivalries NXT has had before. He has the presence of a champion, he’s wrestled at an elite level, and has two NXT Championships in 2016 to go with it. Along with Nakamura, he’s raised NXT to feel like more of a bona fide wrestling organization than an indy fed with an underground following. That work can’t go unnoticed.
Accolades: 2x NXT Champion
Pay-per-view record: 2-2
Signature rivalries: Finn Balor, Shinsuka Nakamura
Match of the year: vs. Finn Balor, Steel Cage Match, NXT TakeOver: The End
9. Sasha Banks – Injury after injury after injury. Banks had a breakout 2015 (ranked #3 on my top 10 of 2015), but couldn’t carry it over into 2016. Still, no one can deny the sheer body of work Banks together in 2016. Her program opposite Charlotte Flair alone was the stuff of pro wrestling legend. Sure, people argue that the ‘hot potato’ booking of the Raw Women’s Championship hurt the division, but I disagree. It made both women look as elite as they truly are, as though either woman could win on any given night. Banks winning her first Women’s Championship on Raw was one of 2016’s most special moments.
Accolades: 3x Raw Women’s Champion
Pay-per-view record: 3-5
Signature rivalries: Charlotte Flair
Match of the year: vs. Charlotte Flair, Monday Night Raw, July 25