The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
After a 2016 that was entertaining, if not always the most satisfying, let us celebrate the best of the best (or in some cases, the worst of the worst with my annual award column, The Viewies!
Wrestler of the Year: AJ Styles
AJ was already given the award two weeks ago in his own independent column, so I won't elaborate too much here. He had the overall best year from top-to-bottom, winning titles, getting over, cutting good promos and of course having great matches.
Honorable Mention: Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, Jay Lethal, Matt Hardy, Kento Miyahara, Kenny Omega, Kevin Owens
Also gave this award it's own article which included the 25 or so best matches of 2016.
Tag Team of the Year: The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks have done it all in 2016, we could talk about the titles they have won and the great matches that they have had, but everyone is already aware of that. How about the fact that they anchor two major indie promotions, Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla? Perhaps the Hardy Boys in TNA are the biggest draws in that promotion, but really that is more of a testament to their success as singles stars. The Young Bucks, as a tag team, anchor promotions in a way that harkens back to the glory days of the 1980s when teams like the Rock n' Roll Express and The Road Warriors were the biggest draws for significant companies.
Honorable Mention: The New Day, Strong BJ, Big Guns, The Briscoes, The Addiction, Great Bash Heel, The Revival
Women's Wrestler of the Year: Charlotte
Although the Women's division had their ups and downs in 2016, Charlotte clearly established herself as the top wrestler in the division and has really left her chief competitors in her dust. If 10 years from now and women in WWE are still as popular as they are today, we will look back at Charlotte's 2016 and credit her for the turnaround.
Honorable Mention: Becky Lynch, Asuka, Santana Garrett, Toni Storm, Io Shirai
Event of the Year: NJPW WrestleKingdom 10
It was tough for WrestleKingdom this year to match last year's event which was probably the greatest large-arena show in history, but WrestleKingdom 10 came pretty close. Like last year, the main event between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada was phenomenal while the undercard was led by a sensational Shinsuke Nakamura match, this time against AJ Styles.There were also two excellent Jr. Heavyweight matches (KUSHIDA vs Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice vs reDRagon vs Ricochet and Matt Sydal) as well as another Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomohiro Ishii classic. There were a lot of really good shows in 2016, but WrestleKingdom for the second year in a row was the top one.
Honorable Mention: NJPW G1 Climax Day 17, WWE Extreme Rules, ROH All-Star Extravaganza, PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night 2, Dragon Gate Kobe Festival
Promotion of the Year: New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan had a lot of obstacles to overcome in 2016, beginning with the loss of some of their biggest stars including Shinsuke Nakamura, Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. To their credit, they once again showed why they are the best run major federation by suavely elevating new stars in their place, particularly Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega. Other wrestlers like Katsuyori Shibata, Michael Elgin and SANADA made leaps up the card and top names from other promotions like RUSH from CMLL and Naomichi Marufuji from Pro Wrestling NOAH also helped round out the roster. NJPW followed up with their typical excellent major shows, including several classic G1 Climax matches, a terrific WrestleKingdom show and the most consistent main events on the planet. What it comes down to is that if you spent the time or the money on NJPW, you were going to get a great value and were guaranteed at the very least a satisfying show.
Honorable Mention: Dragon Gate, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, EVOLVE, Revolution Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, CMLL
Best Technical Wrestler: Zack Sabre Jr.
Timothy Thatcher won this award at the Mid-Year point but a nasty concussion has kept him out of competition for the last couple months. Sabre Jr. has been extremely well-traveled, having great matches in his native U.K as well as for indie promotions like EVOLVE and PWG. He reached his broadest audience yet by competing in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic where he had several excellent matches with a variety of different opponents. No wrestler does a better job of displaying their expert knowledge of holds and Sabre's flexibility inside the ring is unmatched. The one knock on him is that I don't really buy his facials inside the ring (whereas Thatcher has terrific mannerisms during a grueling match) but I think he has improved on that aspect in the last year.
Honorable Mention: Marty Scurll, AJ Styles, Timothy Thatcher, Tetsuya Naito, Chris Hero, TJ Perkins
Best Power Wrestler: Daisuke Sekimoto
Sekimoto, along with his tag team partner Yuji Okabayashi were game-changers for All-Japan Pro Wrestling; their command over the tag titles and their feud with Big Guns reinvigorating a very lackluster division. Sekimoto is a very modern power wrestler, not particularly tall but built like a fire hydrant and a great athlete. The ace of Big Japan Pro Wrestling, Sekimoto had a series of excellent singles matches and won the Champion's Carnival in April. A few wrestlers like Michael Elgin and Cesaro might arguably be better in-ring performers, but neither can match the impact Sekimoto had on a wrestling company.
Honorable Mention: Cesaro, Michael Elgin, Jeff Cobb/Matanza Cueto, Yuji Okabayashi, Zeus
Best High-Flyer: Will Ospreay
This was a terrific year for high-flying wrestlers with several truly outstanding performers. After breaking out in 2015, Ospreay had a tremendous 2016, refining his wrestling skills and developing rivalries with some of the top names in indie wrestling, including Ricochet, Zack Sabre Jr. and Marty Scurll. Ospreay's athleticism combined with his willingness to take huge risks in the ring make him one of the most can't-miss performers in wrestling and a likely staple for this award for years to come.
Honorable Mention: Ricochet, Dragon Lee, Matt Sydal, Peter Kaasa
Best Brawler: Naomichi Marufuji
This was a tough one to dole out considering that guys like Kevin Owens, Katsuyori Shibata, Chris Hero and Tomohiro Ishii had plenty of outstanding matches in 2016. Marufuji is a terrific overall wrestler but what separates him from the pack is his incredible striking ability, particularly his kicks. He represented NOAH fiercley in the G1 and had terrific matches against Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, including an IWGP World Heavyweight Championship match in October that was one of the best NJPW matches in 2016. He also was arguably the biggest star in NOAH, entering 2016 with the championship and having consistently strong main events for his home promotion.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Owens, Katusuyori Shibata, Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Chris Hero, Bobby Lashley
Best on Interviews: Chris Jericho
How good is Jericho? He got pretty much everything over thanks to his excellent mic skills and delivery, including the two letter word "it" and most famously a fictional list. Throw in the fact that for months RAW has been built around his skills on the microphone to generate easy heat for his opponents and you have one of the most impressive run of promos since The Rock was working full-time. At this point it is getting hard to imagine that there is a promo that Jericho could do that wouldn't get over with the audience if he tried hard enough, and that allows him to run away with this award.
Honorable Mention: Jay Lethal, Enzo Amore, Kevin Owens, Matt Hardy, The Miz
Most Charismatic: Shinsuke Nakamura
The case for Nakamura is very simple: the guy has become one of the most over acts in a promotion without really speaking the native language. Nakamura's unreplicable mannerisms and swagger transcend the language barrier and have enthralled English speaking fans. Simply by being SHINSUKE NAKAMURA he has gotten over more than almost any other wrestler in the United States and that is because people just want to watch him walk down the aisle towards the ring.
Honorable Mention: Matt Hardy, Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Pentagon Jr., El Barbaro Cavernario
Best Wrestling Maneuver: The Young Bucks' Dave Meltzer Driver
The Meltzer Driver as a whole is an awesome maneuver, and only a team as creative as The Young Bucks can come up with a move like that. What makes it even better is that in 2016 The Young Bucks have shown the ability to do the move in non-traditional ways, including doing a 450 plancha to the floor in order to execute the spike piledriver and doing it off of ladders.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Omega's One Winged Angel, Chris Hero's Snap piledriver, Ricochet's Benadryller
Most Underrated: Christopher Daniels
Daniels might as well get a lifetime achievement award in this category as a lot of his stellar career has flown under the radar. Daniels, despite being well into his 40s is still very good in the ring and he has cut some great promos in 2016. Even in ROH, which tends to focus on less-heralded but extremely talented wrestlers, seems to have underappreciated Daniels.
Honorable Mention: Neville, Luke Harper, Apollo Crews, Roderick Strong, Natalya
Feud of the Year: Kazuchika Okada vs Los Ingobernables de Japon
With Tanahashi briefly in his rear-view mirror, Okada needed a new challenger for his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Enter Tetsuay Naito, who along his his stable Los Ingobernables de Japon, entered a spot on the card that he could never reach while a babyface and finally captured the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Okada. Their feud would last for most of the spring and summer and helped establish a new superstar after the departure of Nakamura and Styles.
Best Announcer: Mauro Ranallo
Ranallo was excellent while working for NJPW on AXS and unsurprisingly he has continued to excel in WWE. After years of dealing with the monotonous tone of Michael Cole, WWE fans were treated to Ranallo who embraced an enthusiastic play-by-play style that had been largely absent from the WWE since Jim Ross left. Despite being saddled with a weak supporting cast that seems to be growing in size each month, Ranallo has remained a very good announcer for the most influential company in wrestling.
Honorable Mention: Jim Ross, Kevin Kelly, Steve Corino, Excalibur
Best Babyface: Kazuchika Okada
Okada has picked up the heavy mantle from Tanahashi as the number one babyface in NJPW and carried it with grace, bringing NJPW's business along with him which again is impressive considering the exodus of talent that left early in year. Excellent new rivals like Naito and Omega have emerged for Okada, and barring injury he should be the favorite to win this award next year.
Honorable Mention: John Cena, YAMATO, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kento Miyahara, Kyle O'Reilly, Volador Jr., Pentagon Jr.
Best Heel: Chris Jericho
Nobody works quite as hard at being a bad guy than Jericho. A true throwback, he refuses to even have merchandise because he doesn't want fans buying his stuff because that would be what a babyface would do. My favorite Jericho characteristic is that now since "You just made the list" is so popular with fans he doesn't say it anymore, but instead he teases that he is going to say it so the crowd gets excited, but in classic heel fashion he refuses to say it, denying their chance to cheer. In this day in age he is one of a kind.
Honorable Mention: The Miz, Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, El Barbaro Cavernario, Shingo Takagi, Bobby Lashley, RUSH, Kevin Owens
Best Gimmick: "Broken" Matt Hardy
The "Broken" gimmick is certainly not for everyone but there is no denying it has done wonders for Hardy's career. In a flash Hardy went from being a washed-up has-been to the biggest star in TNA and a darling for hardcore fans. More importantly, Hardy has shown to be the only single star who can effectively move ratings in a positive direction for TNA.
Honorable Mention: The New Day, Pentagon Jr., El Barbaro Cavernario, Matanza Cueto
Worst Promotion of the Year: WWE
With so much content out there, WWE is always going to have their ups and downs, but this year they felt flat for most of it. Although NXT and SmackDown once rebranded were well-received, their flagship show Monday Night RAW seemed to have one good show for every four bad ones, and too many inconsistent PPVs. Combine that with a string of consistently underwhelming PPVs, an inability to create new superstars and plummeting ratings and live attendance, WWE did not have the 2016 they were hoping for.
Honorable Mention: W-1, TNA
So there have been worse matches in 2016, but I'm limiting this award to worst major match, because in reality any match that is horrible and it isn't the main event or for a title we mostly forget about it. Anyway, the main event of WrestleMania was awful for a couple reasons. It culminated in WWE trying to crown Roman Reigns as the top guy in the company even though fans have openly rejected him for YEARS now. It also was not a particularly entertaining match, as it was wrestled very slow and methodically, which is not really what fans want to see after watching a show that went 4+ hours. I think quite easily this was the worst WrestleMania main event since at least WrestleMania 13 (Sid vs The Undertaker).
Most Overrated: Sasha Banks
Banks came into 2016 with high expectations but despite becoming a multiple-time WWE Women's Champion, Banks has really struggled in WWE. Outside of the cocoon of NXT her charisma did not resonate quite as well and a series of underwhelming title defenses at Hell in a Cell and Roadblock in which she was criticized for underperforming, Banks has been the recipient of growing resentment from some hardcore fans. Once believed to be the top female star in WWE, she has been usurped by Charlotte, Becky Lynch and now Bayley on the main roster.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Hardy, Bray Wyatt, Triple H
Roadblock was overall an okay show, but was marred by two issues. The first was that the Pittsburgh crowd was dead for most of the show, which some will blame the fans for but really it is WWE's fault for putting out a lackluster product that the crowd cannot get excited for.
Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens: ***¼
A long match that did not help the dying crowd despite the Universal Championship being on the line. Owens likes to do these long chin-lock holds with the idea that they build heat because he isn't doing anything exciting, but they end up just forcing the crowd to tune out instead of rally behind the babyface. Maybe this is just a factor in all WWE main events but it seems like in Reigns matches they over-rely on table spots, probably because even if the crowd isn't behind him they still pop for him. The finish was just to set up another match, which is a lame way to close a PPV. They did the Shield spot at the end simply because Reigns was never more popular than when he was in the Shield so maybe if they remind people of that he will get over. He won't, but that is what they are thinking.
Charlotte vs Sasha Banks: **
Some fans probably thought this was a pretty good match but at times for me it was almost unwatchable. The first 20 minutes were painfully slow with Charlotte just pounding on Sasha at a methodical rate as the crowd seeped further and further into boredom. Maybe this match could have worked if the crowd was hot going into it--but they weren't and going 20 minutes before the first fall was not a good strategy. It also didn't help that some of the moves, including Banks' first pinfall and the decisive submission move were awkward looking at best. They also buried Sasha as a babyface by having her tap out when all she needed to do was hold on for two more seconds and the match would be hers. They would never book Reigns or Cena that way and if Banks is supposed to be the top face in the division; well that pretty much shows what they think of her.
Seth Rollins vs Chris Jericho: ***½
From a wrestling standpoint it was really good, Jericho still has it and Rollins is one of the best in the world and his fluidity when he strings together offensive moves is simply awesome. The crowd didn't really pop for Rollins that much and I think that is because they have botched his babyface run pretty poorly. First, he was screwed by Triple H who then disappeared from the company, thus robbing Rollins from working with his obvious top opponent which would help him build support. Secondly, they are much more concerned booking Reigns as the top face which makes Rollins look like Babyface B, even if any unbiased observer will tell you that Rollins is the more talented performer. Maybe when he finally gets to work with Triple H he will get a lot more support, but I feel like the longer they wait on that match the more momentum it loses.
Cesaro and Sheamus vs The New Day: ***¾
Really good opening match which unfortunately was the high point of the show. The New Day still has a role to play in WWE but the time for them to be tag team champions was over and Sheamus and Cesaro have proven to be a the very least an entertaining duo with one guy being a babyface and the other a jealous heel. The finish was clever with The New Day getting outsmarted and the crowd bought it which helped a lot.
Sami Zayn vs Braun Strowman: *½
Not a good match by any means, as it was clear that Strowman cannot wrestle a normal ten minute match, even with Sami Zayn. I did think the storytelling was pretty well done though, Zayn sold well and made a nice babyface comeback and the crowd believed in him. The next night on RAW they pushed Strowman really hard and even teased a Reigns/Strowman feud which, if enacted, would usurp the Children's Crusade as the worst idea in world history.
TJ Perkins vs Brian Kendrick vs Rich Swann: **¼
The wrestling was fine but the match was really short and felt incredibly unimportant once the show was over. It might as well not have been a title match because all anybody remembers from it is Neville turning heel. This was pretty surprising since Neville is such a natural babyface but the crowd did react to it and I thought it was done pretty well. WWE had seemingly followed gravity and forgotten Neville since he came back from his injury but as a heel he should only help the Cruiserweight division which desperately needs the aid.
Must Watch Matches:
Kento Miyahara vs Suwama: ****1/4 - AJPW New Explosion