I’m in the mood to ramble about wrestling, so here you go.
2016 was a very interesting year for WWE. It was a transitional period of sorts that saw older talents moved down the card so new superstars could shine. All three former members of the Shield held world championships. Finn Balor won the inaugural Universal Championship before wrecking his shoulder. Kevin Owens stepped into Balor’s spot to pick up the slack. The amazing talents that made NXT’s women’s division the most entertaining part of the entire company came into their own on the main roster. And established veterans like John Cena, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, and the Miz proved capable of adjusting their games to better fit the new normal.
But we can’t just leave it at that. Wrestling fans have always been obsessed with arguing about who’s better than who. The entire show’s built around that sort of thing, after all.
Let’s start with an honorable mention. The Revival, for my money, had more amazing matches in 2016 than any other act in the WWE. Their matches against Enzo and Cass, American Alpha, and DIY are fantastic examples of tag team wrestling done right. Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder also work almost as well together on the mic as they do in the ring. Big things are on the way for these two (especially Dawson, I think, who might be the next Arn Anderson), but I’m counting them out of the Best WWE Wrestler conversation because 1) everybody’s fucking great when they’re in NXT and 2) they didn’t have to bring it on live TV every single week like the two candidates I’m placing above them.
So. The nominees for Best WWE Wrestler of the Year…WWE Champion AJ Styles and Raw Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair.
Ladies first. In 2016, Charlotte…
- Went undefeated in singles competition on pay-per-view. That’s 15-0. Yes, I know it’s predetermined—which means someone at the top believes in her, but also that she’s earned it.
- Won what was probably the best women’s match in Wrestlemania history against Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch.
- Captured the Raw Women’s Championship four times.
- Won the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match against Sasha Banks.
- That Hell in a Cell match, by the way, was also the first time a women’s match headlined a WWE pay-per-view.
- Yes, WWE is a universe where putting two women in a cage so they can fight is considered progressive.
- Let’s get back to the correct tense with this next point.
- Made probably the best main roster entrance of the year prior to that Hell in a Cell match. Seriously. Watch this thing. Everything you need to know about Charlotte is right there in that entrance.
- Won the first main roster women’s iron man match against Sasha Banks.
- Broke the glass ceiling for female competitors in WWE.
- Slapped the fucking shit out of her father, Ric Flair.
- Acquired a last name (prior to this fall, she was just Charlotte).
Not bad, right? Now how about AJ?
- Made a hell of a debut at the Royal Rumble.
- No, seriously, his matches with Cena were dope and I’m super excited for their next one at the 2017 Rumble.
- Killed it in the ring night after night after night.
- Made his old Bullet Club pals, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, interesting for an entire month.
- Did the same for the chinless wonder, James Ellsworth.
- Beat the dog crap out of Ellsworth to a rousing ovation.
- Won several fun matches against Dean Ambrose.
- Broke the glass ceiling for former TNA guys in WWE.
- Got the best entrance music on the main roster.
Add that shit to your workout mix and thank me later.
That’s the tale of the tape. We’ve got the Phenomenal One against the Queen. The best part of Smackdown against the best part of Raw. Likely two of the most important characters of the next decade of WWE programming. A guy who consistently produced quality matches against a woman that produced bigger spots. A mostly finished product against a youngster that might only be scratching the surface of what she can do.
For me, it’s all about that signature feud. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks was bigger and better than AJ Styles vs. John Cena. Each match in Flair’s battle with the Boss accomplished exactly what it set out to do, whether that was to put on a technical clinic or to create a memorable spectacle. They dragged women’s wrestling into the mainstream and proved it can make Vince piles of money. The only way it could’ve been better is if we’d gotten devious, clever, bad ass NXT Sasha instead of happy, smily, “Let’s make history!” Sasha, but WWE unfortunately refuses to build heel vs. heel rivalries and probably always will. Sasha certainly did her part, but that feud was all about Charlotte and she delivered.
The Best WWE Wrestler of 2016 is Charlotte Flair.