To say that 2016 was an incredible year in professional wrestling would be a bit of an understatement.
From the debut of AJ Styles in WWE to the rise of Evolve as a promotion – let’s not forget about the launch of Fightful.com itself! --, there has been no shortage of major stories for fans to digest. But what really stood out to the staff of Fightful.com?
Each writer was polled on topics ranging their favorite moment of 2016 to their thoughts on the WWE brand split through the first few months. Check out their responses below, and don't forget to join the conversation in the comment section below as well as on our members-only message boards. It's free to sign up and start talking with fans across the globe about the industry we all love.
What was your top wrestling moment of 2016?
Sean Ross Sapp: Shane McMahon's return. Shocking. Many of us were told something huge was happening. This lived up to the hype.
Alex Pawlowski: Seth Rollins sliding into the ring to give a pedigree to Roman Reigns at the end of Extreme Rules. At that moment, I believed he was returning as a conquering hero that we could root for against the soon to be heel Reigns and I was ecstatic. Whoops.
Ryan Cook: Kenny Omega winning the G1 because he became the first gaijin (foreigner) to win the tournament in the history of NJPW.
Patrick Fannin: AJ Styles' Debut
John Moorehouse: Triple H endorsing Cedric Alexander after his Cruiserweight Classic match: It felt like a genuine, organic moment and as someone who has met Cedric multiple times, an opportunity on the biggest stage is well deserved.
Brandon Howard: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega from the penultimate night of the G1 Climax. The best match of a great tournament that solidified Omega as a top star for New Japan.
David Tees: There were three really, but since they all include winning championships...I will go with all three, those moments are Tetsuya Naito winning the IWPG Heavyweight Title, AJ Styles winning the WWE World Heavyweight Title and Kevin Owens winning the WWE Universal Title.
Michael Straw: For me it’s a tie between the debut of AJ Styles and the return of Shane McMahon. Both had me in awe just because of the magnitude of the moments
Carlos Toro: For me, 2016 will be highlighted by AJ Styles' debut at the Royal Rumble. Before 2016, if you had ask wrestling fans who is the biggest star to not compete in WWE, many would say AJ Styles.
What was your favorite match of the year?
Sean Ross Sapp: Zayn/Nakamura at Takeover: Dallas. I don't really care what anyone says about it being the "third best match of the weekend." They took a match that I knew the result of and put me on the edge of my seat.
Alex Pawlowski: Not the best, but my favorite, was Gargano vs Ciampa in the Cruiserweight Classic. Two best friends putting it all on the line to prove which one was the best, and Ciampa only lost because he wasn't willing to murder his own tag team partner in the ring. They even hugged it out at the end. Brilliant.
Ryan Cook: It's a tough call, so many great matches, but I'd have to say Okada and Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 10 because of the story around it all, Tanahashi had never lost at WK and Okada couldn't beat him in their first or second meeting and the end of that match still gives me chills, when Okada held onto his wrist and wouldn't let go then hit the RAINMAKER 3 times then after he won he cried, it was an amazing moment and solidified Okada as the new Ace of NJPW.
Patrick Fannin: Styles vs Cena at Summerslam
John Moorehouse: Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens from Battleground: I've not seen all the stuff touted as must-watch from 2016, but this remains my favorite match of the year. A satisfying conclusion to their rivalry, which I'm sure will inevitably resume at a full boil at some later date.
David Tees: Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto (NJPW G-1 Finals), this match was awesome from bell to bell, plus Omega becoming the first westerner to win the G-1 was a great moment.
Michael Straw: I might be bias because I was able to witness it in person, but Nakamura vs. Zayn was wrestling gold. Start to finish excitement, and it was just incredible to watch.
Carlos Toro: I would say it's a tie between Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT TakeOver: Dallas and Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 10, but I'll give the edge to Zayn vs. Nakamura for one reason only. It was a true fantasy matchup come to reality that truly lived up to the hype.
What was your WTF were they thinking moment?
Sean Ross Sapp: Re-signing Hawkins and Jinder Mahal. I wondered what was going on when they did it, but given present-day booking, I'm wondering why the finances were used that way.
Alex Pawlowski: They booked the worthless, thrown-together team of Ryback, Kane and Big Show to beat The Wyatts at Fastlane, burying the Wyatts for no reason, then had Ryback turn heel the next night, making the win entirely pointless. WWE booking, man.
Ryan Cook: WTF moment would have to be when Chris Jericho went over AJ Styles at Wrestlemania. I was thinking that they were burying him before he got started, but I was pleasantly surprised when they put the rocket on him.
Patrick Fannin: Goldberg vs Lesnar
John Moorehouse: Booking of the cruiserweights on the main roster: After tearing down the house on a weekly basis during the Cruiserweight Classic, the division has been a watered-down version of itself on both Raw and 205 Live. Having these guys work the same 'WWE style" as seen on the main roster is not going to differentiate them from the main product, and is only going to doom the division to failure in the long run.
David Tees: Just about everything TNA has done on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, there isn’t enough memory on my computer that would allow me to go over the screw ups they have done in 2016.
Carlos Toro: Definitely Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar. I still don't understand why they put Goldberg over and essentially erased everything Lesnar has worked for in the past three years. Undertaker's WrestleMania streak being broken was supposed to be the catalyst for Lesnar to give the ultimate rub to the next big star of the company.
Thoughts on the WWE brand split thus far?
Sean Ross Sapp: There aren't enough new talents getting opportunities on Raw. Strowman is really it. The others aren't booked consistently.
Alex Pawlowski: I think the lack of depth has hurt Smackdown, but not too much, since they're still the more fun show to watch.
Ryan Cook: I enjoy the brand split, the rosters are thin though and I honestly think they should get rid of the vanity promotion that is NXT and move everyone up to each show, Smackdown could use a lot of guys who are more than ready. I only watch Smackdown and I'd still watch it even if I didn't cover it, it's 2 hours and it's the more wrestling centric show.
Patrick Fannin: Unnecessary, splitting up the Women's Division and tag division is making both weak. Both shows have shallow rosters
John Moorehouse: I think it definitely has benefited certain individual talents: The Miz and Alexa Bliss, for example. While the Smackdown roster definitely lacks star power compared to Raw, they've maximized the personnel they have. I would like to see more variance in the production and presentation of the two brands, even going so far as tweaking the match rules on each show... much like in MLB, where the AL uses the designated hitter rule but the NL does not.
Brandon Howard: It's increased SmackDown ratings above what they would be, thanks to the separate roster. The creative direction of SmackDown too is refreshing compared to RAW, whose ratings continue to decline due to the evolving media environment and three-hour run time.
David Tees: I think the Smackdown Brand is far better from storytelling and overall match quality, while Raw has the better women’s division, every week just seems like the “same old, same old” with Raw.
Michael Straw: Obviously there is so much untapped potential, but to see what they’ve done with the talents on SmackDown has me hopeful that 2017 will only see things get better.
Will the near death of TNA in 2016 be put in the past or is it really the beginning of the end?
Sean Ross Sapp: We'll go through the same type of thing at the end of the year.
Alex Pawlowski: The only way they survive is if they put the whole thing in the hands of Matt Hardy. Dude's a legit genius.
Ryan Cook: TNA will last for as long as Anthem are willing to support it, the family who runs that have more money than Vince does so it won't die anytime soon as long as they see it as useful.
John Moorehouse: People have been predicting the death of TNA for at least a decade, but it has not happened yet. I'll believe it when it happens. I, for one, hope TNA continues to exist, as it provides another place for wrestlers to earn a paycheck.
Brandon Howard: They'll be alive as long as Anthem feels they're worth the cost of maintaining their programming on the Fight Network in Canada. Without any major change in leadership I expect the promotion will live on in its current stasis, doing nothing more exciting or interesting than it's doing now.
David Tees: It’s the beginning of the end, if you put tons of money into a pile of shit, you still have a pile of shit and now your money smells like shit as well.
Michael Straw: I want to say yes, but it’s tough to say for certain when the company is seemingly always about to go under.
What promotions took the biggest steps forward in 2016?
Sean Ross Sapp: Evolve
Ryan Cook: NJPW are at the top yet again, the best matches in the world and even after losing top stars they grew new ones and that's something that isn't easy to do, even WWE can't do it.
Patrick Fannin: Ring of Honor
John Moorehouse: EVOLVE made major strides this year. I also think the Chicago area is becoming a hotbed for good wrestling, between AAW and Freelance Wrestling.
Brandon Howard: Evolve/WWN by making the deal with FloSlam. Progress, emerging as the most buzzworthy indie in the UK. Arguably What Culture, which didn't exist before 2016, although it has strong financial backing helping it. All Japan Pro Wrestling has repaired itself substantially too.
David Tees: Evolve, the relationship with WWE is better than any other deal that any other promotion on the independent scene has right now and as long as they do nothing to screw it up, they will reap the benefits for a long time to come.
Michael Straw: Evolve. No other promotion took a bigger step towards national relevancy.
What are you hoping to see in 2017?
Sean Ross Sapp: Talent protected so they can get over.
Alex Pawlowski: Jack Gallagher being elected Prime Minister of Wrestling, Roman finally turning heel and Braun Strowman wrestling an actual bear. I'm not entirely sure which of those is the most likely to happen.
Ryan Cook: I am hoping for more guys to get called up from NXT, especially Shinsuke and Joe, for Hideo to go back to NOAH and for Kenny Omega to become IWGP Heavyweight champion and feud with Okada and Naito for the year as well as Shibata and the returning Minoru Suzuki to have some great matches.
Patrick Fannin: Lucha Underground Season 5
John Moorehouse: More opportunities for talented wrestlers to make a full-time living in the business.
Brandon Howard: More promotions raise their profiles through progressive use of new media. The WWE main roster debut and proper handling of Shinsuke Nakamura who I believe could be a business mover for WWE and star who connects across cultures and languages.
David Tees: There are really three things I want to see in 2017, the first is a full blown NJPW tour in the United States, more independent wrestling promotions doing on demand services (ex: CZW on Demand, Progress On Demand, ETC.) to get more eyes on their product and Kenny Omega win the IWGP Heavyweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom.
Michael Straw: I want to see WWE stop with the apparent fear of making big stars. The talent is there, now help them get to the top.
Carlos Toro: I would love to see a NJPW-WWE show, maybe even a pay-per-view. I know such a thing is unprecedented and ROH already has a relationship with NJPW, but imagine a match where we get to see the best from both brands competing.
Anything else about 2016 you'd like to add?
Sean Ross Sapp: Fightful #1. Much heavy legend. Award winning. Visit. Click. Share. Yes.
Alex Pawlowski: If you're not watching Lucha Underground, please do so. It's so much fun, and it's the one hour of wrestling programming I look forward to every week. I think you'd like it, too.
Ryan Cook: It's been said ad nauseam, but 2016 is the best year in wrestling and it's a great time to be alive if you're a wrestling fan because there's so much great wrestling all over the world, in major promotions and smaller ones, from North America to the United Kingdom to Japan and it's just going to get better from here!
Carlos Toro: What many people need to start realizing is that wrestling may not be at its most popular among the mainstream audience, the sport itself is as good as it has ever been. There so many options to watch, it is incredible to think that only a few years ago, some people would think that wrestling is dead.
Companies such as EVOLVE, Lucha Underground and the reemergence of NJPW being the supreme Japanese wrestling promotion has given people so many different wrestling options that you don't need to be just a WWE fan to be a wrestling fan. It truly is a great time to be a fan of this great industry.