2016 has been a huge year for the WWE Universe. Raw and Smackdown are back at war, while the Superstars are still adjusting to their new situation. With so much change in the air, many Superstars have scrambled to take advantage of the new opportunities afforded to them. We decided to take stock of this and look back at the year so far, taking into account who’s done the biggest moves and who’s made 2016 their year.
Top 10 WWE Superstars That Made 2016 Their Year
10. Brian Kendrick
I was a fan of The Brian Kendrick on his first go-around in WWE. But when he left the company, it felt like it was the end of the road for the Superstar and WWE. So imagine my absolute surprise when he not only came back during the WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic, he ended up becoming a focal point of Raw’s new Cruiserweight Division.
Not many guys get a second chance like this in their career – Kendrick seems to be relishing his role as the gatekeeper for experience in the new division. He’s got the most personality of anyone in said division and I’d be strongly surprised if he doesn’t capture the Cruiserweight Championship in the near future. It would ultimately mark a remarkable comeback for a man who’s proved in 2016 that there is second wind when it comes to a WWE career.
9. Chris Jericho
Jericho’s ability to adapt and adopt new roles in wrestling has seen the Superstar become a hugely vital cog in the WWE product. He could easily coast by on his reputation, delivering solid matches while not really going anywhere (See his more recent runs). Instead Jericho has risen to the challenge during this run, helping to really establish some of the company’s newer faces and giving them matches that help to put them over with fans.
Most tellingly of all, Jericho’s presence in the main event feels justified. Unlike other veterans, Jericho’s re-earned his position alongside Kevin Owens and helped to define a new era by crafting its stars. He even managed to get a victory at Wrestlemania this year; that alone is worth mention as Jericho has a poor track record at the company’s top pay per view.
8. Finn Balor
Before his untimely injury, Finn Balor was on a rocket to the top. Becoming the first WWE Universal Champion isn’t something to be sneered at; doing so less than a month after being called up to the main roster is a staggering achievement. Had he not succumb to injury; it might have been a different story now.
2016 has been a year where Balor has shown his quality. He’s a Superstar who deserves to be mentioned in the top-tier of talent within the company and has earned the acclaim fans pour on him. The only reason he’s not higher on this list is because his injury de-railed his ascent to the top. The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long and all that. 2017 though will very likely be Balor’s year.
7. Sasha Banks
The WWE Universe has known for the longest that Sasha Banks was a main event level talent; it just took WWE a while to get her right on the main roster. After being called up in the summer of 2015, Sasha felt more like an afterthought in the shadow of Charlotte, whose associations with Ric Flair gave her the biggest push out the gate.
In the summer of 2016 however things began to move in the right direction for the female Superstar. She finally returned from lengthy injury and successfully captured her first WWE Raw Women’s Championship. She has since gone on to repeat this feat, defeating Charlotte again and setting up the first Women’s Hell in a Cell match at the upcoming Raw pay per view.
There’s a strong argument that Charlotte could be on this list too, but we’d say that her biggest impact came in the second half of 2015.
6. Xavier Woods
The New Day have been sat at the helm of WWE’s tag team division for over 400 days now. It’s arguably Xavier Woods who has emerged as the most charismatic member of the group in 2016.
If he’s not engaging fans on Youtube with his impressive Let’s Play videos, he’s tearing it up by getting a reaction with his trombone. Wood’s has excelled in the role he’s been given; something that’s all the more impressive when you remember that pre-New Day he was struggling to find his footing on the main roster. A few inconsistencies earlier in the year (Namely that awful Wyatt feud) soured us on The New Day on the whole – but we’re hugely excited to see where things go for Woods in the future.
Wood’s elevation in 2016 points to a bright future – we wonder if he’ll be able to maintain it all once The New Day inevitably breaks down.
Who would have thought in 2016 we’d be saying positive things about Rhyno? He’s never been a major player in WWE – most notably making an impact way back in the post-Attitude era. Yet in 2016 Rhyno has found himself with huge amounts of momentum and genuinely garnering praise for his work.
His stint in NXT was impressive, but I’d make the argument it’s been his Smackdown run with Heath Slater that’s really delivered the goods. Rhyno and Slater make an unlikely duo – but fans are enjoying their act and relishing the matches the pair are putting on. What shouldn’t work does; and Rhyno now goes down in history as the first holder of Smackdown’s tag team championships.
Not bad for a guy who many would have written off 12 months ago.
4. Heath Slater
Who would have thought the guy to get over most from the brand split would have been Heath Slater? A guy who’s struggled to be taken seriously seemed to be drifting without cause in early 2016. The brand extension however afforded Slater a unique position on the card – the man nobody wanted.
Fans became endeared by his persistence; as he continued to show up on Raw and Smackdown in his desperate quest for a contract. His fun antics have provided entertainment for audiences – and finally given him the chance to take a more prominent role on the roster. Smackdown has benefited from his presence and now that he’s making a name as a legitimate tag team champion.
3. Kevin Owens
When Owens made his main roster debut last summer – he made a huge impact out the gate. Defeating John Cena and declaring himself ready to face the world; Owens seemed to be on a rocket to the top. After bad luck fell on Finn Balor, it was Kevin Owens who stepped up and got to take up the mantle as the second WWE Universal Champion.
From his extensive feud with Sami Zayn all the way through to challenging Miz during his lengthy Championship run – Owens has made 2016 his year by being in the right spot at the right time. He’s teamed with Jericho and the pair have become one of the main draws of Monday Nights. Not bad for a guy that many felt would struggle in Vince McMahon’s main roster.
2. The Miz
If there’s one guy who’s really shone since the brand split, it’s most certainly The Miz. Since his wife returned to his side and helped to create one of the most compelling teams in WWE, Miz and Maryse have slowly been capturing praise for their heel work. Yet it’s on Smackdown where the pair have really come into their own.
Miz’s over the top portrayal of a Hollywood Superstar has given him a new lease of life. He’s cutting the best promos of his life, doing the best heel work of his life and generally re-inventing himself as a mainstay of the main event picture on Smackdown. Can he continue toe momentum forward?
1. AJ Styles
Without question, the man who’s made the biggest impact in 2016 is the man who many wouldn’t have believed would ever step foot inside a WWE ring. AJ Styles made his debut at the Royal Rumble and since then hasn’t stopped impressing the WWE Universe. With great match after great match, Styles has managed to bring his A-game to the WWE during a time when the company has been desperate for new blood to break out.
There’s no denying that Styles has been on fire in 2016 – capturing his first WWE Championship and becoming the main face of Smackdown Live in the wake of the brand split. It’ll be interesting for sure to see if Styles has it in him to maintain this momentum.