WWE'S BEST (AND WORST) OF 2016
by Scrooge McSuck
Another year has come and gone, and 2016 has been quite the roller coaster. The Roman Empire didn't really take off like the WWE was hoping for, WrestleMania was mostly ruined by a series of injuries to top tier performers, and a Brand Split has somehow made Smackdown Live the new must-see show in wrestling, while Raw continues to be mostly terrible and NXT seems to be coasting on the high it had for most of 2015. All "awards" are decided by my own personal bias and don't have any scientific approach. What works for one award might not be a factor for another, so just have fun with it.
The Stupid Idiot Award: The fans who started doing "Ten!" chants to the referee's counts.
Tye Dillinger has become one of those NXT guys who fans suddenly got into for whatever reason. As a worker, he's OK, but by flashing "ten" and doing bad cartwheels, that seems to have gotten him over beyond the level of the JTTS he's been pegged as for most of his career under the WWE development brand. Suddenly, at Survivor Series Weekend, the crowds at both NXT Takeover: Toronto and Survivor Series hampered every match with teased count-outs by shouting "Ten!" with every count, and this sad trend has continued up to the date of this writing. It's annoying as hell, and while not quite as bad as "What!?" chants 16 years after it was funny (for about a week), it's slowly making progress up that ladder.
Worst Repackaging Award: The Shining Stars
Here's a fun fact for you... the Shining Stars, then known as Los Matadores, won my "Worst Team of the Year" award not too long ago. With that gimmick dead and buried, instead of cutting loose talent that clearly had very little to build upon, we get yet another repackaging of Epico and Primo. The pros is they got to be those names again after being "Fernando and Diego" for about two years. The cons? They shill corrupt time share in Puerto Rico. No, I'm not making this up. No, they aren't over. No, they are still on the main roster (for the B-Show, Raw). I know Vince wants to make "stars" out of minorities to draw from those demographics but please, enough with the Colon family. What next, another Carlito return?
The "Well, We're Waiting" Award: The "Premiere" of Emmalina, coming soon
Three months later and the flip of a calendar, and still waiting. Emma has had an interesting journey through WWE. She became a darling to the NXT audience before the Network Era, and as soon as she was called up to the main roster, was paired up with Santino for a comedy duo that went nowhere. Emma soon found herself on the bad side of creative and reinvented herself in NXT as a moody girl (nicely putting it) who was pissed about her failure on the big stage. Another call up happened in time for WrestleMania 32, but a neck injury sidelined her in May. Hype videos began in October, promising the "Premiere" of the makeover of Emma to Emmalina (don't ask), and as of January 4th, 2017, we are still waiting.
The Tell Me I Didn't Just See That Moment Award: The Wyatt Compound
If you're one of the 9 people who still watch Impact Wrestling, you might know it as the show where the Hardy Boys are allowed to do whatever whacked out, crazy concepts they want since the company is constantly on the verge of death. One of those moments was a bizarre "match", The Final Deletion, that took place on their private property. It wasn't long before we got a nonsensical feud (that didn't go anywhere) between the New Day and the Wyatt Family, where Xavier Woods was apparently hypnotized by the magic and aura of Bray Wyatt. Somewhere in the mess, a challenge was laid out, and a battle took place... on the Wyatt Compound. Yes, WWE ripped off the Final Deletion. It was terrible and quickly forgotten about.
The Welcome to the Main Roster, Your Careers Are Done Award: The Vaudevillains
Following in footsteps of the Ascension, the Vaudevillains (Simon Gotch and Aiden English) had become cult favorites to the NXT crowds, only to be moved to the Main Roster and instantly buried and becoming the bottom-of-the-barrel for the division, once again proving what works in front of the NXT crowds (usually the same small group of people for tapings and smart, traveling, fans for Takeover Specials) isn't guaranteed to work in front of casual fans. Since being called up to the Main Roster, the only notable moment for the Vaudevillains is Simon Gotch nearly crippling Enzo Amore at the 1st PPV after WrestleMania, and Aiden English trying to incorporate his singing gimmick into his promos before they weren't even allowed entrances on TV.
Worst Match of the Year: The Miz vs. Darren Young
Long gone are the days of matches that would fall so deep into the infamous negative scale that it would be a no brainer to give such an award. These days, we just have to cherry pick the best options for various reasons. We had matches that we almost fell asleep to, but that doesn't mean "bad", just boring. The Miz vs. Darren Young at WWE Battleground, the last PPV before the brand split took effect, was just bad. The work itself was just pedestrian stuff, and the crowd was dead since they had no reason to care about Darren Young (he earned the shot by literally doing nothing in a Battle Royal). Then we got a clumsy, stupid finish that killed the match dead, involving Bob Backlund (who randomly stripped his shirt... mostly), Maryse, and Young "snapping" to protect his mentor that went, you guessed it, nowhere.
Worst PPV/Network Special: WrestleMania 32
As far as the actual work of every match is concerned, this might not be THE worst, but factoring in the entertainment and creative decisions, there's nothing else that can touch it. Does Fast Lane or Roadblock REALLY stand out a bad PPV when it's forgotten about two weeks later? WrestleMania lives on with "WrestleMania Moments", and this show defined that term, with "WrestleMania Moments" being used despite logic and reasoning. I'm not going to waste my time addressing the 30-minute snoozer between an ice cold Roman Reigns and Triple H, but lets examine the undercard. Jobbing the New Day to the League of Nations for the sake of putting over the surprise appearances of Michaels, Austin, and Foley? Undertaker and Shane fighting for the WWE and the stipulation ignored the next day? Zack Ryder gets a title win after years of burial when he wasn't even scheduled to be in the match to begin with? Treating Dean Ambrose like a chump against Brock? Jobbing Styles to Jericho, and then making Styles the #1 contender to carry Main Events for the next few months? The list goes on and on. (Editor's Note: "Welcome to mah' house..." Sorry.)
Comeback Superstar of the Year: Heath Slater
I don't think I gave this as an "Award" last year, but the brand split meant revived pushes for talent who had been misused. Darren Young was definitely not in the running. While the Miz deserves recognition, he was never really left for dead, and Zack Ryder's big win at WrestleMania lead to being treated with a bit more respect on the main roster, but the winner is the one man who wasn't even drafted. Heath Slater has spent most of the last 4 years as a comedy jobber, with lame stables like 3MB and The Social Outcasts to give him something to do. Slater not only got over on Smackdown as a Free Agent, but arguably was one of the most over performers on the Smackdown brand at the height of his alliance with Rhyno, a Superstar brought back to put the regulars over, only to earn himself a decent push as well.
Tag Team of the Year: The Revival
The first award winner to be chosen from the NXT brand over the Main Roster, and as you'll see, the Tag Teams had the same problem as another division. The Main Roster options were few and far between. Even the New Day, my choice for the best team last year, seemed to sputter and run on fumes for most of the year, with terrible feuds with the Wyatt Family, the Club, and then a lot of nothing to stretch their run beyond the Demolition record. From beginning to end, the Revival brought the goods to be the best. The commitment to being heels who don't want to be cheered, and the old school vibe of their work that lead to some of the best matches of 2016. American Alpha might've been considered had they not wasted half the year as afterthoughts on Smackdown, and Slater and Rhyno wasn't strong enough to overcome what the Revival did.
Female Superstar of the Year: Asuka
This was a hard one to choose a winner, just because of the inconsistencies from all the main contenders on the Raw and Smackdown rosters. Charlotte and Sasha Banks traded the Women's Title back and forth and seem forced in all their "this is important this time" promo segments, and Bayley has barely been a factor to the main storylines. Of the Main Roster Women, I'd probably give the nod to Becky Lynch, just for the stable handling of her character, but Asuka clearly has been presented as the best. She's delivered good-great performances on all the Network Specials against various levels of competition, and the idea of an arrogant babyface, borderline heel Champion feels natural with her.
Male Superstar of the Year: A.J. Styles
I don't think there's a solid argument for anyone in comparison. The first few months of 2016 weren't the best for Styles, but from April through the end of the year, it was all about Styles. He headlined almost every PPV he was on, often having the best match of the night, and the heel turn did something for him that was a big question mark coming into the WWE: It answered the naysayers about his ability to consistently cut convincing promos, giving a combination of passionate hatred and arrogant showboating to fuel his segments. I was going to do "New Sensation of the Year", but A.J. would've won that, too.
Best PPV/Network Special: Royal Rumble
My original choice was to pick the Survivor Series, but as I mentioned in my recap, it was a mostly filler show that happened to feature a lot of good matches. There were plenty of Network Specials/PPVs in 2016, but very few to choose from that really stood out as either good or bad. With Survivor Series off the books, SummerSlam mostly under-delivering with the exception of a couple of matches on a loaded show, and WrestleMania 32 disappointing most, the Royal Rumble seemed to be the clear favorite of the remaining contenders, with the best Rumble match in years (yes, it had a predictable winner, but was structured much better after several flops) and an excellent Last Man Standing Match with Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose underneath (and brownie points for KO dragging his broken body back to the ring for the Rumble!).
Match of the Year:
Main Roster: John Cena vs. A.J. Styles (SummerSlam)
Notable Consideration: Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz with Ziggler's Career on the Line (No Mercy); Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens (Battleground); John Cena vs. A.J. Styles (Money in the Bank); A.J. Styles vs. Dean Ambrose (TLC)
NXT: The Revival vs. DIY (Takeover: Toronto)
Notable Consideration: Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Takeover: Dallas); American Alpha vs. The Revival (Takeover: Dallas); Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Finn Balor (NXT TV); The Revival vs. DIY (Takeover: Back II Brooklyn)
While the product as a whole will always leave us wanting more consistency from creative and giving us more of who we want on top, you can never say we don't get plenty of good matches every week. I wouldn't say any of the matches from 2016 hit the 5-star marker, but three of them came close. For the Main Roster, Cena vs. Styles at SummerSlam gets the nod for being a show stealer that put A.J. Styles over as a Superstar to carry the Smackdown brand, the usual formula of a "big rematch" featuring John Cena, and a clean finish. Miz vs. Ziggler might seem weird to name as a runner up, but the weekly build up and outstanding work from both makes it well earned.
As for NXT, I had two matches at 4 ½ stars. Nakamura vs. Zayn from Dallas was an outstanding performance, but it had absolutely no build up and was just an exhibition, so that became the deciding factor for the 2 out of 3 Falls Match between the Revival's Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson and DIY's (Do It Yourself) Johnny Gargano and Tomaso Ciampa. They managed to top their efforts at Brooklyn with an emotionally draining 25-minute classic with tons of teased finishes and callbacks to their previous match.
Final Thoughts: That wraps it up for 2016. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm looking forward to the 34 Network Specials of 2017. Who knows, maybe I'll actually watch an episode of 205 Live before we roll the calendar over to 2018. I have nothing witty to add here, so I'll close it out like I always do. As much as there is to complain about when it comes to the WWE product, there's still some good stuff to enjoy, and you never know when something will click.
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