Certain topics get discussed every single year, by countless people all over the internet, but continue to create conversation and plenty of back-and-forth debate. One of those topics is Year End Awards.
2016 was an incredible year for pro wrestling. There were highs. There were lows. Many a memorable moment was unleashed before our very eyes. In no way, shape or form am I claiming to have watched every piece of wrestling that took place during the year. I am confident, however, in saying that I have watched enough, from all over the world, to form the opinions you'll see in this column. That's what they are... opinions. If yours differ, that's fine. Feel free to leave some feedback with your picks, but for now, let's get on with the show.
Promo Of The Year: The Miz “Shooting” On Daniel Bryan During Talking Smack (8/23)
Say what you will about The Miz, but he set the wrestling world ablaze with a fiery, passionate promo on Daniel Bryan during the WWE Network's Smackdown post-show, Talking Smack. It didn't matter if you were a fan of his or not. He captured your attention and he wouldn't let go during a several-minute long rant about the way Bryan (and a lot of the WWE Universe) sees him and his in-ring abilities. As soon as Bryan said that he feels Miz wrestles “like a coward”, the Intercontinental Champion went off, talking about how his in-ring “style” allows for him to stay injury-free, and to make all of the media appearances that the company wants him to make. His emotion seemed to take him off track a time or two, but all in all, it was a serious shot in the arm for his career, especially since he was able to do the entire thing without any real rebuttal from Bryan.
Honorary Mentions: Enzo & Cass Lead The Crowd Without A Microphone, Goldberg's Return Promo, Daniel Bryan's Retirement Promo, John Cena vs AJ Styles During Money In The Bank “Go Home” Episode Of Raw (6/13), Enzo & Cass Debut On Raw
Segment Of The Year: Shane McMahon's Shocking Return To WWE
I went back and forth on this one a bit. I had to watch Shane's return again, and it all came flooding back to me. We were all absolutely stunned to hear his music hit and to see him come out dancing on our screens once again. It was precisely the type of shocking moment that the company has been able to deliver during “WrestleMania Season” every year, but has struggled to pull off at any other point in the year. Sure, you could say a lot of the storyline he returned to didn't make a whole lot of sense, but he was back, and it made for some really entertaining television.
Honorary Mentions: Goldberg's Return To WWE, The League Of Nations Have Their Challenge Answered At WrestleMania, AJ Styles Turns Heel On John Cena, The Rock Tells Big Show What Could Have Been On Raw (1/25), “Please Sign Cedric”
Tag Team Of The Year: The New Day
Say whatever you want about some of their booking, but their reign as WWE Raw Tag Team Champions lasted 483 days, which is the only thing that matters. They took on all comers, defeated them (some on several occasions), and they've been able to constantly entertain with their promos and antics all the while. There isn't another team on the planet that can say they've been able to do that, and it isn't even close.
Honorary Mentions: The Young Bucks, Guerrillas Of Destiny, The Revival, American Alpha, Ricochet & Matt Sydal
Most Underrated: Braun Strowman
There was a time when I didn't think I'd have anything positive to say about Strowman. When he first arrived on the scene as a member of the Wyatt Family, he was a large human being and all, but he still wasn't even the most intimidating looking member of the group. He was crazy green in the ring still, and if he was wrestling for more than a minute or so at a time, he was exposed as not really knowing what he was doing. While he hasn't turned into late-80's Ricky Steamboat yet, he has started to figure things out. Everything he does is maximized, and there isn't a lot of wasted movement. He has become a very believable “monster” wrestler, whose squash matches are must-see. His current feud with Sami Zayn is only going to help him even further, especially in the long run. I just don't see him getting the right amount of credit for his improvements. We'll see if that changes.
Honorary Mentions: The Revival, Chris Hero, Rusev, Roman Reigns, Drew Galloway
Most Overrated: Sasha Banks
Ooh, controversy! I'm well aware that saying anything even remotely negative about Sasha Banks opens the door to all types of criticism, but I stand by my opinion here. Calling her overrated isn't saying that she's terrible. Far from it, actually. I just don't see the Greatest Of All-Time when I watch her wrestle, like a lot of people have already foolishly proclaimed her to be. Can she put on a good match? Yes. Does she get sloppy during those matches? Yes. She seems to try too hard at times, and it affects her work. As I've mentioned in previous columns, the chip on her shoulder isn't always a positive thing. Let's not even get into a discussion about her promos. Her being a graduate from the Triple H-uh School-uh Of-uh Sounding-uh Ridiculous-uh When-uh You-uh Speak-uh means that, far more often than not, I can't take anything she says seriously. At least Triple H has a gravelly voice when he does it. Sasha just sounds like a “Valley Girl”. I'd better stop here, before the Sasha Mob finds me and dyes my hair an obnoxious shade of pink or something.
Honorary Mentions: Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns (yes, underrated & overrated at the same time), Charlotte, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes
Promotion Of The Year: WWE
This one will always ruffle people's feathers a bit. The indy and puroresu fans get really upset when anyone decides to say that WWE had a better year, but it's the truth. WWE has given us numerous Match Of The Year candidates (albeit not as many as, say, New Japan has given us). What sets them over the top is that their focus on the “entertainment” aspect in their name, giving us promos and segments that were memorable, while other companies focus almost completely on the in-ring product. You know what else helps to define a very successful year? 100,000 fans in attendance for your biggest show, grossing $17.3 million in ticket sales. WWE wasn't perfect in 2016, but they gave us more bang for our buck, so to speak.
Honorary Mentions: PWG, New Japan, PROGRESS, NXT, EVOLVE
Angle/Storyline Of The Year: “Broken” Matt Hardy
Crazy. Absurd. Bordering on the clinically insane. Those are the positive ways to describe what the hell is happening with the “Broken” Matt Hardy story, and every little thing that has happened because of it. Mainstream (as mainstream as TNA can be, anyway) wrestling hasn't seen this level of camp and kitsch in a long, long time. Maybe ever. Things like Total Nonstop Deletion are giving the company their biggest buzz, with ratings and YouTube views doing higher-than-normal numbers. As people like Chris Jericho have publicly stated, even the WWE locker room finds time to watch these things, and you rarely ever hear about WWE wrestlers watching specific wrestling from elsewhere in the world. Some say that TNA is driving the entire story into the ground, but for a company that needs as many positive moments as they can get, why wouldn't you try to have more and more of this? As long as people keep watching, expect to see more of “Broken” Matt, Brother Nero, and the rest of the downright brilliant writing that this story is delivering.
Honorary Mentions: Continuation Of The “Women's Revolution”, Kenny Omega Becoming A Main Event Player In New Japan, WWE Brand Split, EC3 & Drew Galloway “Invading” EVOLVE, Triple H Turning On Seth Rollins
Real Story Of The Year: Daniel Bryan's Retirement
The last few years have been as big a roller coaster as there could possibly be for the man born Bryan Danielson. To go from an afterthought (in the company's eyes) to the hottest name in the business to being pushed aside to winning the main event of WrestleMania 30 to seeing the death of his father (as well as Connor “The Crusher” Michalek) to having to drop the WWE World Title because of an injury to returning with a vengeance to having to retire... all within three years... is something that is more dramatic than anything Shakespeare could have put together. We were all pulling for him to be able to return, but ultimately, his body couldn't handle any more punishment. After an incredible 16-year career, it was all over, and many a tear was shed as he hung his boots up for good. Hell, it still makes me sad when I think about it, or when I go back and watch any of his matches. I'm not sure we'll ever see someone that brings the fans together so unanimously and so organically again.
Honorary Mentions: Chyna's Death, Billy Corgan vs Dixie Carter For Control Over TNA, Roman Reigns Suspended For Wellness Policy Violation, Record Attendance At WrestleMania 32, Sting's Possible Retirement
Match Of The Year: Kazuchika Okada vs Naomichi Marufuji (10/10)
This match took place at New Japan's King Of Pro Wrestling pay-per-view event. Marufuji had returned to NJPW for their annual G1 Climax tournament, where he beat Okada (who was the IWGP Heavyweight Champion) in the first round. Naturally, this meant that Marufuji felt he deserved a shot at the title. This was every bit the epic encounter fans were expecting, with the story being that the champion had to work extra hard to battle a tough challenger that had defeated him three months earlier. For nearly 30 minutes, we saw them dish out their very best. Two titans of the Japanese wrestling scene. One of New Japan's “aces” of the last several years going up against one of Pro Wrestling NOAH's “aces”. If you haven't seen it, please go out of your way to check it out. I don't want to ruin too much of it for you.
Honorary Mentions: Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura (4/1), Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (1 /4), AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura (1 /4), Ricochet vs Will Ospreay (5/27), DIY vs The Revival (11/19), Chris Hero & Tommy End vs Pentagon Jr & Fenix (9/3), Kota Ibushi vs Cedric Alexander (7/14), John Cena vs AJ Styles (8/21), Kazuchika Okada vs Tomohiro Ishii (8/6), Will Ospreay vs Marty Scurll (1/16)
Wrestler Of The Year: AJ Styles
A few of the honorary mentions can make a strong case here, but honestly, AJ's case is just stronger. He started the year by wrestling at New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom event, losing to Shinsuke Nakamura in an absolute classic. Three weeks later, he was a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble match, lasting nearly 30 minutes and getting some of the biggest ovations of his career. He is three months deep into a WWE Championship reign. He has defeated John Cena twice in singles matches on pay-per-view. He's had Match Of The Year (or close to it) candidates with Cena, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose. The only thing that prevented him from being the overwhelming choice here is his record against that future Hall Of Famer James Ellsworth. In all seriousness, he's been on quite the roll since arriving in the land of Titan, and that roll doesn't look to be ending at any point in the near future.
Honorary Mentions: Timothy Thatcher, Chris Hero, Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, Will Ospreay, Kevin Owens, Kento Miyahara, Jay Lethal, Kenny Omega, The New Day
Don't forget to drop me some feedback here, or hit me up on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and give me your selections for these awards. Thank you for reading.
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