IT’S been an exciting 2016 for WWE. The last twelve months has seen a second brand split between Raw and SmackDown Live, the beginning of its ‘New Era’, and the biggest WrestleMania of all time.
Legends have returned and new stars from all over the world have emerged to battle for the limelight and, ultimately, top spot in the world’s biggest wrestling company.
To celebrate another action-packed year, The Sun takes a look back at the very best — and very worst — of what went down in WWE.
Superstar of the Year — AJ Styles
Who’d have thought this time last year that AJ Styles — stalwart of the indices, TNA, and Japan — would be WWE World Champion?
True to form, his Royal Rumble debut was phenomenal, and though his WrestleMania loss to Jericho suggested he might be getting the usual treatment for non WWE-made guys (see his flagging Club cronies, Gallows and Anderson), he went on to make Roman Reigns look a million bucks in their title feud, then scored a clean pinfall over John Cena in a jaw-dropping SummerSlam match.
Match of the Year — Sami Zayn v Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT TakeOver: Dallas)
From Nakamura’s entrance (another WWE debut fans thought they’d never see) to the dramatic finish (won by Nakamura with a hard running knee), the match felt like history-in-the-making — a masterfully constructed bout with heart-stopping near falls, a red-hot crowd, and the particular kind of storytelling only wrestling can deliver.
It was also an emotional farewell to Zayn — the true heart and soul of NXT — who stepped up to the main roster afterwards.
It wasn’t that bad in the ring, but it was WWE booking at its most obnoxious — pressing ahead with creative plans that no one wants to see except Vince McMahon himself.
It was also counter-productive, as Roman Reigns was booked to defend his title against 30 men in the Royal Rumble, only to miss most of the match after a beating saw him stretchered off, rather than fight on like a real hero.
Some fans turned on their climatic at WrestleMania 32, with long periods of silence and chants for NXT stars.
Hero of the Year — The Women’s Division
They stole the show at WrestleMania. They ditched the term “Divas”. They headlined events. They made history inside Hell in a Cell. And more importantly, they made WWE fans care about women’s wrestling for the first time in years.
Charlotte and Sasha Banks have had WWE’s biggest feud of the year of Raw, but the pool of female talent over on SmackDown is even deeper.
The booking’s still not perfect (all those title changes have been overkill), but the progress is staggering — a testament to hard work and wrestling talent.
Villain of the Year — The Miz
Easy to despise because he’s so genuinely smug and arrogant, but The Miz has mastered the art of being a wrestling heel.
His wife Maryse’s crafty antics at ringside have added some old school villainy (remember when heels used to cheat instead of trying to be cool?), and in the ring he looks dangerous for the first time in his career — there’s a real vicious streak, which has helped him notch up some high profile wins.
He’s also drawn cheap-but-no-less-brilliant heat by mimicking of Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” pose and trademark kicks.
Pay-Per-View of the Year — Backlash
The thought on brand-specific pay-per-views — which meant increasing the number of big shows to 14 in 2016 — didn’t exactly fill fans with optimism.
But SmackDown’s first PPV was an absolute blinder, mostly thanks to an ace women’s sixpack challenge, Rhyno and Heath Slater’s tag title win, The Miz versus Dolph Ziggler’s for the IC belt, and AJ Styles’ World Championship victory.
Tag Team of the Year — The Revival
The New Day might be just days away from beating Demolition’s tag title record but like an old box of Booty O’s, they were past their sell-by-date months ago.
The real stars of tag team wrestling in 2016 were two-time NXT Champions, The Revival.
The tandem of Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder delivered stunning matches against both American Alpha and #DIY — matches that fused old school tag team psychology with a modern high-impact style.
Reinvention of the Year — Chris Jericho
After phoning it in for about six years, Jericho finally got his mojo back.
He’s always been the king of getting something new over with fans — a scarf, a potted planet, even a clipboard — but the latest version of his character has been a revelation for the 46-year-old star, thanks to friendship with Kevin Owens and stellar mic work (“Quiet!”).
Those persistent “Y2J” chants will guarantee a babyface turn and falling out with his supposed best friend somewhere down the road. Drink it in, man.
“This Is Awesome” Moment of the Year — Bobby Roode’s Entrance
The anticipation for Bobby Roode’s in-ring debut had been building for months.
When he finally made his entrance at TakeOver Brooklyn II it was, well, glorious.
Descending into the arena on an elevating platform, Roode could barely stop himself singing along to his own choir-like music.
The subsequent match with Andrade Almas was serviceable, but the entrance was his star-making moment.
Disappointment of the Year — Finn Balor’s Push
It looked like WWE was serious about its ‘New Era’ when it booked Bálor to defeat golden boy Reigns clean and then become the first Universal Champion at SummerSlam.
But Balor sustained a torn labrum in the SummerSlam match and was forced to vacate the title due to injury just 24 hours later — a crushing moment for Balor and his fans.
Let’s hope, when he returns, WWE hasn’t forgotten that it had big plans for The Demon.
Comeback of the Year — SmackDown Live
After years of being non-essential viewing, SmackDown bounced back as the superior TV brand — thanks mostly to a shorter running time, engaging feuds, and less nonsensical waffle than over on Raw.
Not everyone likes the brand split, but it’s done wonders for WWE’s blue brand so far.
Most Overpaid Talent of the Year — Brock Lesnar
Though rumoured to make anywhere between $4 to $8 million per year, the part-time beast meandered through his feud with The Wyatts, looked bored during the Royal Rumble and barely lifted a finger in his WrestleMania match with Dean Ambrose.
He spent the rest of the year coasting, while still receiving preferential treatment backstage (though drugs test failures in UFC have gone unpunished).
We bet he couldn’t believe his luck when he only had to work 89 seconds at Survivor Series.