The 20 Greatest WWE Wrestlers of 2016

Business-wise, it was a pretty rough year for WWE as RAW’s ratings hit their lowest point in the show’s history, but from an in-ring perspective, 2016 was no slouch. Just about every PPV of the year presented at least one match that was worthy of four stars or higher and many different wrestlers have been putting in career performances over the course of the last 12 months. It’s been such a great year for so many, in fact, that I’ve decided to present a Top 20 rather than a Top 10. Listed below are the men and women that shined the brightest in and out of the ring (regardless of how poorly scripted their in-ring promos were), along with their best match of the year.

Honorable Mention: Asuka

asukaI can’t put Asuka in my Top 20 due to her lack of matches in 2016 that weren’t absolute squashes, but I had to give her a bit of a nod here because other than Shinsuke Nakamura, Asuka has been my favorite performer in WWE this year. I’ve heard her be compared to Goldberg in his prime in that every time she comes to the ring, you know that the last thing you’re about to see is a competitive match. Instead, you’re about to witness her kick somebody’s ass. And that’s exactly what you want to see. She’s my favorite women’s wrestler of all time, and if she remained undefeated for her entire career, I would be absolutely fine with it.
Best Match: NXT Takeover Brooklyn II: Bayley vs. Asuka

20. Samoa Joe

samoa-joeOther than Shinsuke Nakamura, nobody has come into NXT and shifted the landscape as drastically as Samoa Joe. This year he won not only one NXT Championship, but he became the first man in history to hold the most prestigious title currently in WWE twice; and he did it over two of the greatest in the game today: Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura. As is the case with Asuka, Joe’s matches on regular NXT television are typically squashes, but when he gets on the big Takeover stage, he still knows how to get the job done. And thanks to his creative freedom in NXT, nobody has cut better promos this year on a regular basis Samoa Joe.
Best Match: NXT Takeover The End: NXT Championship Match: Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor

19. TJ Perkins

tj-perkins-winsAnybody reading this entry that didn’t see the Cruiserweight Classic must be in total shock, because since debuting on RAW, TJ Perkins has been booked to look like a total joke. But even months of poor booking and bad promos about video games can’t sour the incredible matches that he turned in as a part of the Cruiserweight Classic this year. After five excellent bouts, Perkins was named the inaugural winner of the greatest tournament in WWE history. It’s just too bad it hasn’t translated to a wider audience.
Best Match: Cruiserweight Classic Semi-Finals: TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi

18. Shinsuke Nakamura

shinsuke-nakamura-entranceNo wrestler has made a bigger impact on my life this year than Shinsuke Nakamura. When 2016 began, I knew him only by name. But after watching him debut live in the crowd at NXT Takeover: Dallas, I was absolutely hooked. Since then, even after only wrestling serious opponents a few times this year, Nakamura has become my third-favorite wrestler of all time. I even bought a leather red jacket for the winter just because he wears one. He’s that charismatic and awesome. If Vince and company would just pull the damn trigger on the guy and move him up to the main roster, he’d probably be in the Top Five. But his overlong feud with Samoa Joe and his overall career stifle in NXT holds him back from reaching his full potential.
Best Match: NXT Takeover Dallas: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn

17. Kota Ibushi

kota-ibushiAnother incredible Japanese wrestler that I was not familiar with before 2016 began, Kota Ibushi didn’t change my life as much as Nakamura did, but his in-ring work impressed me even more. He was far and away the best man in the Cruiserweight Classic where he delivered my vote for WWE match of the year against Cedric Alexander in the second round, but he was held back from ultimate victory due to his reluctance to sign with WWE full-time. And considering how the company has booked the Cruiserweights since, it was a pretty solid career move. Oh, and he also delivered the greatest head kick I’ve ever seen to Buddy Murphy on a one-off appearance on NXT in late July. Poor dude probably couldn’t see straight for days.
Best Match: Cruiserweight Classic Round 2: Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi

16. Gran Metalik

gran-metalikWhile Ibushi may have been the overall greatest wrestler in the Cruiserweight Classic, Gran Metalik lasted one match longer than his peer, and, for my money, really should’ve been the one to pick up the win. Words can’t describe how disappointed I was when he ultimately lost to TJ Perkins in the finals of that tournament, and the fact that he hasn’t been seen in WWE since, despite being signed, only proves that Vince McMahon has no idea what he’s doing. When it came down to high-flying, scintillating wrestling in 2016, nobody else in WWE even came close. And if nothing else, The Metalik Driver is the most brutally badass move in WWE. Watch him deliver it to Alejandro Saez in Round 1 of the Cruiserweight Classic and try to remember that he somehow survived.
Best Match: Cruiserweight Classic Semi-Finals: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Gran Metalik

15. John Cena

john-cena-2016Big match John turned in some incredible matches this year against AJ Styles, which are enough to warrant giving him a spot on this list, but his injury in the first half of 2016 and his part-time schedule in the second prevent him from being any higher up the list than the No. 15 spot. Make no mistake about it, though, he is still the top dog in the company and by far the most famous active wrestler in the world when he leaves it.
Best Match: Summerslam: AJ Styles vs. John Cena

14. The Miz

the-miz-and-maryse

Love him or hate him, The Miz has had indisputably the greatest year of his career in 2016, blowing his lackluster WWE Championship reign in 2010-2011 right out of the water. While many frowned when the Intercontinental Championship went from Kevin Owens to Zack Ryder to The Miz in a 24-hour span in April, The Miz has only added to the championship’s prestige bolstered by good-to-excellent performances against Dolph Ziggler (the perennial loser of WWE this year) and by-the-seat-of-his-pants defenses like in the unbelievable Fatal Four Way against Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Other than perhaps AJ Styles, nobody has benefited more from the brand split than The Miz. Add Maryse into the mix, and you have one of the most entertaining acts in WWE today, and one of its best Intercontinental Champions in years.
Best Match: Extreme Rules: Intercontinental Championship Match: Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens vs. The Miz

13. The Revival: Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder

dash-and-dawson

All year they’ve been calling themselves the greatest tag team in the world. They’ll get no arguments from me. Overshadowed by American Alpha at the beginning of the year, Dash and Dawson have outlasted Gable and Jordan, becoming the first and currently only Two-time NXT Tag Team Champions, and crafting the greatest tag team matches I’ve ever seen alongside Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa. I’m not sure how effective they’d be if they ever split up or what their ceilings are on the main roster, but united in NXT, nobody can touch them when it comes to old-school Tag Team wrestling glory.
Best Match: NXT Takeover Brooklyn II: NXT Tag Team Championship Match: Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano vs. Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson

12. Sasha Banks

sasha-banks

While 2016 hasn’t been as great for The Boss as 2015 was, she’s still better than any other woman in the history of WWE (save for one notable exception). Like Ciampa and Gargano, Sasha Banks’ 2016 was defined by her relationship with another, though in this case it was as rivals, not allies. No feud in 2016 has been as prolific or groundbreaking as Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte. Bar none. Their matches haven’t always been the most polished affairs, but after going through just about every match stipulation in the company, Banks and Charlotte elevated Women’s Wrestling in WWE far beyond what anybody ever believed would be possible.
Best Match: Monday Night RAW July 25, 2016: Women’s Championship Match: Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte

11. Chris Jericho

chris-jericho-list

Leave it to Chris Jericho to get something as ridiculous as a list on a bedazzled clipboard over. That’s the kind of performer that he is. Over the course of his nearly 20+ years in the wrestling business, Jericho has been able to reinvent himself time and time again to remain one of the most consistently entertaining men in the history of wrestling. On top of that, he’s one of WWE’s Top 10 best workers of all time, and continues to deliver excellent matches to the present, even if they aren’t quite on the level of the classics that he once had against Chris Benoit. He may just be the most popular man in WWE not named AJ Styles, and for that, he has earned a place on this list.
Best Match: Monday Night RAW April 4, 2016: Cesaro vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens

10. Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa

gargano-and-ciampa

I know I said earlier that no tag team in WWE was better than The Revivial, but Gargano and Ciampa are higher on the list not necessarily because they’re a better tag team, but because they are far-and-away better singles wrestlers. But I couldn’t separate them for this list, because they have been absolutely linked all year long. They’re riding high after triumphantly defeating The Revival at NXT Takeover Toronto, making them the current NXT Tag Team Champions, but it was during their loss at NXT Takeover Brooklyn II where they shined the brightest, working with The Revival to craft my vote for the greatest non-TLC tag team match in the history of WWE (or at least since the ’80s). They even turned in an excellent match to close out the year in Osaka Japan against challengers Tajiri and Akira Tozawa. And if their match during Round One of the Cruiserweight Classic is any indication, we are in for some more excellent work from these two when they inevitably split and feud with each other.
Best Match: NXT Takeover Brooklyn II: NXT Tag Team Championship Match: Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano vs. Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson

9. Finn Balor

finn-balor

It’s hard to think about Finn Balor in 2016 and not wonder what could have been. Unfortunately injured in his match with Seth Rollins at Summerslam 2016, Finn Balor missed out on what could’ve been some of the greatest months of his career as Universal Champion going toe-to-toe with the likes of Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. But even before he was shelved, he had a hell of a year, turning in excellent matches against Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura on NXT before rising to the main roster and becoming the inaugural Universal Champion (which is a title with a hell of a lineage so far, if you think about it). Hopefully, Balor will be back soon and 2017 will be even better than 2016 was.
Best Match: Monday Night RAW July 25, 2016: Finn Balor vs. Rusev vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens

8. Charlotte

charlotte-flair

Many prefer Sasha Banks over Charlotte, and when 2016 began, I would’ve counted myself among them, but Charlotte has had such an incredible year that it would really be impossible to not consider it the best in the history of women’s wrestling in WWE. She came into the year as the Divas Champion, was the first to win the new Women’s Championship and has gone on to engage in a rivalry for all time against Sasha Banks over the newly minted, heavily prestigious belt. What really sets Charlotte apart from Sasha though is not only her impressive record on PPV (she remains undefeated in one-on-one encounters bringing her record to 14-0, unprecedented for any performer in WWE history male or female), but also her underrated program with Natalya over the Divas Championship at the beginning of the year. Sasha Banks has needed Charlotte in 2016. But Charlotte hasn’t always needed Sasha to be the greatest WWE Champion of the year.
Best Match: Best Match: Monday Night RAW July 25, 2016: Women’s Championship Match: Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte

7. Cesaro

cesaro

Cesaro has been far from the most protected WWE competitor of 2016, but night after night, Cesaro has been able to take what little he’s been given and create some of the most impressive and entertaining in-ring work of the year. Other than AJ Styles, I don’t think there’s anybody in WWE that is as athletic and talented in the ring as Cesaro is. The man’s offense is explosive, everything he does looks excellent, and his entrance featuring a tearaway suit and reflective sunglasses is almost as iconic as his taped up left shoulder. When Cesaro enters the ring viewers are always guaranteed quality, and that trend will certainly continue in 2017.
Best Match: Extreme Rules: Intercontinental Championship Match: Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens vs. The Miz

6. Roman Reigns

roman-reigns

I’m already catching some heat for putting Reigns on my list at all, so hear me out first then make your own judgement. The truth is, I hate Reigns as much as the next guy, but there is no denying that he has had an excellent year. He’s one of the most over guys in the company (even if his reaction is different from what WWE wants), and has had some of the year’s best matches against AJ Styles and Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Even if he was the weakest member of all of those matches, it takes two to tango and Reigns is more than able to deliver some explosive offense (along with some excellent right hands as long as they aren’t of the Superman variety) and draw the ire of the crowd like nobody else in the company. Think about it: would AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns been half as good if you hadn’t wanted AJ to beat him so bad? No way. Bottom line; Roman Reigns is the best heel in the company, because he’s one of the only guys left that actually draws real heat. And in my opinion, that more than warrants him a place on this list.
Best Match: WWE Payback 2016: WWE Championship Match: AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns

5. Dean Ambrose

dean-ambrose

One of the greatest moments of the year in WWE was when Dean Ambrose won the Money in the Bank briefcase and then cashed it in successfully all in the same night. Why? Because WWE had finally booked a babyface who said what he was going to do ahead of time, and then backed it up. Ambrose has always been a star since the days of The Shield, but that night was the shattering of the glass ceiling that has haunted Ambrose since the Shield split. No matter who he’s been up against in 2016, whether it was Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, AJ Styles, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, HHH, or anyone else, really, Ambrose has always been in there grunting it out and kicking ass all year long.
Best Match: TLC 2016: WWE World Heavyweight Championship TLC Match: AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose

4. Seth Rollins

seth-rollins

Let’s address the elephant in the room: WWE absolutely botched Seth Rollins’ return to the company at the beginning of the summer. The first night was great, but 24-hours later, Seth Rollins was cackling like his old self as WWE attempted to push him as a heel, against Roman Reigns no less! And then when they finally gave him a half-ass face turn, he became a horrible punch-line delivering moron. No matter what year it is, “sparklecrotch” was never destined for success. But despite his horrendous booking, Seth Rollins has been involved in so many of the most high-profile bouts of the year. In fact, he’s been in the top two matches on every single PPV he’s been on this year.
Best Match: WWE Money in the Bank 2016: WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns

3. Sami Zayn

sami-zayn

It’s easy to forget how great Zayn’s year has been considering he just had to job to Braun Strowman for eight-and-a-half minutes on PPV, but when 2016 began, Sami Zayn was absolutely on fire. He was in the midst of a classic rivalry with Samoa Joe, before he progressed to NXT Takeover Dallas against Shinsuke Nakamura and the Intercontinental Ladder Match at WrestleMania the next day (translation: the best match on both shows). He then went on to have the best feud of the year with Kevin Owens (which he won, by the way) and even delivered some great televised matches against Seth Rollins on RAW before finally drifting off into obscurity for basically no reason. Vince may not see the greatness that Sami Zayn has provided on a regular basis, but the rest of us know better. Let’s just hope WWE can right the course before his ship sinks.
Best Match: NXT Takeover Dallas: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn

2. AJ Styles

aj-styles

AJ Styles has been topping just about everybody’s list of the greatest wrestlers of 2016, and it isn’t hard to see why. He came into the company at the Royal Rumble as a man that Vince didn’t believe in at all and became the most over guy in the company and its greatest male champion. He has had unbelievable matches consistently all year long against just about everybody on the roster and is undoubtedly the main reason why Smackdown has been as successful as it has since the brand split. The only thing that keeps him from the No. 1 spot  on this list is the ridiculous feud he’s had to endure with James Ellsworth while he waits for some real competition to show up on Smackdown. But the thing is, AJ Styles will never have any real competition. He may just be the greatest all-around wrestler in WWE history.
Best Match: Summerslam: AJ Styles vs. John Cena

1. Kevin Owens

kevin-owensThere’s an argument to be made that Kevin Owens’ reign as Universal Champion hasn’t been as great as AJ Styles’ run with the WWE World Title. But using that as a sole argument for Styles over Owens in 2016 isn’t realistic for two reasons. 1. Owens’ journey to the top has been better. And 2. On a week-to-week basis, Owens has delivered quality matches more often than even Styles has. The year started with Kevin Owens delivering a hell of a performance against Dean Ambrose at The Royal Rumble in a Last Man Standing match which was easily the best match of the show. From there, Owens took part in the best match at WrestleMania, and then embarked on an epic feud with Sami Zayn, the best rivalry of the year. And just when Zayn finally defeated Owens after multiple classic matches and it appeared as though Owens would be sent back to the midcard, Finn Balor was injured and Owens took the spotlight as the Universal Champion. Since then, his on-screen bromance with Jericho has been the most entertaining act on RAW and his regular television matches against the likes of Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins have been just as good as his PPV matches. To review: he’s the best talker on the main roster, has gone from revitalizing the Intercontinental Championship to creating the legacy of the Universal Championship and was involved in the best match at WrestleMania and the greatest rivalry of the year. In other words, he’s the greatest wrestler of 2016.
Best Match: Extreme Rules: Intercontinental Championship Match: Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens vs. The Miz

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