Thursday, January 26, 2017

The inaugural Impact Wrestling Top 10

I have written several unique Top 10 lists in the last couple years of producing The Wrestling Weekday. But somehow Impact Wrestling has always escaped my coverage. Considering the year end Top 10 featured a long time Impact star now in WWE at #2 and an actual Impact star at #1, it seems the time is ripe to feature the first ever list of Impact talents!

Image credit: Impact Wrestling. 
  1. Ethan Carter III: While it currently feels like EC3 is treading water a bit at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, he is cemented as a perennial main eventer on the Impact roster. He could still make huge moves in the year ahead, especially if the company decides to play off the loss of his storyline aunt from the roster. 
  2. Drew Galloway: I am not a fan of Galloway as a heel. He made one of the best faces the company had to offer, while as a heel he feels like just another bad dude in a sea of bad dudes. But he has definitely made waves since his in ring return and looks to have a solid run as Grand Champion. 
  3. Decay: After Total Nonstop Deletion, Abyss and Crazzy Steve are in a bit of a random space, but they continue to be one of the best units on Impact Wrestling, even if it seems unlikely they will challenge for the tag titles much this year. 
  4. Davey Richards: Davey's path upon his return seems clear. After a short uniting of the Wolves for a few weeks, he will take a heel turn against his former partner. Hopefully, Impact uses Angelina Love as his mouthpiece during his heel run, because while Davey can go in the ring, he is still one of the worst talkers on the Impact roster.
  5. Jade: If Impact is smart, they will start to build a major part of their promotion around Jade. The perennial #1 contender to the Knockouts title, the former Mia Yim has to be on WWE's radar now. She has the potential to be a game changer in the world of women's professional wrestling and Impact would be wise to market on that. 
  6. Moose: Unlike Mike Bennett, Moose was smart to make the jump from ROH to Impact. Impact not only gets him in front of more eyes, but it also helps him develop more attention on his career as it continues to grow. He might still have a future in WWE, but with a more solid place on Impact, he can develop the same kind of following that has helped names like Styles, Roode and Samoa Joe in WWE.
  7. Eddie Edwards: He finished 2016 as TNA World Heavyweight Champion, but his obvious impending feud with Davey makes the continuation of his reign seem unlikely, especially with Lashley after him this week. But Eddie has cemented himself as a growing star for the company, and arguably far more valuable than Davey.
  8. Lashley: It seems likely Lashley will win the title just a few hours after this posts. Outside the #1 pick, no one on this list did as good a job as reinventing themselves in 2016 as Donald Trump's former wrestling buddy. His dominant work week in and out on Impact Wrestling builds upon his goal of making professional wrestling seem credible and he does a great job of that even when he's warring with Eddie Edwards at the Hardy compound. I never thought I'd say it, but I've became a big fan of this man in the last year. 
  9. Rosemary: The Knockouts Champion is easily one of the most over talents on Impact television. With a compelling character, a unique in ring style and a propensity to do things in the ring to make a true impact, the former Courtney Rush is a figure a company could be built around. Along with Jade, she makes a strong case for Impact to double down on the Knockouts side of the roster. 
  10. The Broken Hardys: Broken Matt Hardy was the top wrestler of 2016 as chosen by the readers of The Wrestling Weekday and the staff of the ESO-PRO podcast. But Brother Nero did his own reinvention in the second half of the year and even freed from his obsolescence, he still is in a much better place in his career in 2017. No tag team is as in demand in 2017 as the Hardys. The twenty year veterans look to make a huge mark with international matches that will likely be rebroadcast on Impact Wrestling broadcasts, even as they continue to push the boundaries of storytelling in the year ahead. 

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Monday, January 23, 2017

It's about time... about damn time!

I am more than glad WWE finally realized they had a major name well deserving of a return to the company and a place in the WWE Hall of Fame.

But while looking back on his career this weekend, both in and out of WWE, I hope Kurt will also be the first wrestler to turn a Hall of Fame position back into a return to the ring. While I don't think he needs to work a bunch of shows, he would make an excellent part time in the company.

I mean, look back at this and think about how much bigger WWE could make a rematch between these two men.

Nuff said.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Top 10 Wrestlers of the Lucha Underground midseason break

Season Three of Lucha Underground went on hiatus last week, sending fans such as myself into aching fits of pain at the thought of four or five months without weekly lucha action. But with the show going into reruns for the next several weeks, reportedly due to tapings for Season four being delayed until late 2017 or early 2018, it seems like a fine time to look at the top ten wrestlers in Lucha Underground as the break hit.

Image credit: Lucha Underground. 
  1. (tie) Dragon Azteca Jr. / Pentagon Dark: It was incredibly difficult to choose a number ten spot on this list. But two wrestlers have made great strides this year in Lucha Underground at the hands of a massive defeat. Both Dragon Azteca and Pentagon Dark were written off by brutal attacks. Azteca went through the bleachers for a several feet fall while Pentagon suffered broken arms from both Black Lotus and Azteca. Both men seem likely to come back with a stronger push later in season three. (Pentagon: 8/2)
  2. Cage: Winning the best of five series cemented Cage as a man to watch in Lucha Underground and even succeeded in setting Texano on a new path. His gauntlet and his ongoing possession by the dark god held within may be the most unique wrestling story currently on television. (6/2)
  3. Mil Muertes: He has continued to have brutal matches in Lucha Underground, but the present of Puma has left him more vulnerable than ever before. But he still possesses immense destructive capability. Just ask Vampiro. (10/2)
  4. Snake Tribe: The Trios title seems to slowly be heading towards the chosen title for the rising seven Aztec tribes in the promotion. The most dominant of these tribes is clearly the Snakes as Kobra Moon has led Pindar and Vibora into devastating wins. With Drago clearly swayed by her power, they may prove unstoppable in coming months. (-/0)
  5. Sexy Star: It is hard to look as good in defeat as Sexy Star. Although she didn't regain the title, she clearly is positioned as one of the top babyfaces in the company in the coming months. (2/2)
  6. Matanza Cueto: The Monster is still the most dominant wrestler in the ring, but he clearly has shown he's got a weakness to one man. (4/2)
  7. Jeremiah Crane: His wins may be coming due to storyline reasons as much as anything else but Crane clearly is being positioned for an important role in the ongoing Lucha Underground storyline, especially with his history with Catrina and Mil Muertes still coming to light. (-/0)
  8. Rey Mysterio: He just returned on the final episode from the break but his domination of Matanza post-match clearly marks him as a massive star in Lucha Underground's continued success. (-/0)
  9. Johnny Mundo: Mundo has been the most dominant figure in Lucha Underground storylines this year, but it has come at the expense of making him even a dirtier player than ever before. But his three victories over Sexy Star mark him as the man to beat and his in ring endurance will again be tested by an All Night Long match when the show returns. (1/2)
  10. The Mack: He won the Battle of the Bulls tournament and has put a massive hurting on the entire Worldwide Underground. Not since Stone Cold Steve Austin has someone stuck it to the powers that be quite as hard as The Mack is in his storyline against Mundo. He might not win the title when the show returns, but he's cemented himself as one of the strongest babyfaces in professional wrestling today. (7/2)

Image credit: Lucha Underground.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Broken Brilliance of 2016's Greatest Wrestler

"Wrestling Weekday, I knew you'd come!"

In 2017, TNA could not even make the list of the Top 10 Wrestlers of the year. But as the promotion puts their first star on the list, he comes in as the greatest star of the year.

Image credit: Matt Hardy.
Matt Hardy started 2016 with his second reign as TNA World Heavyweight Champion. But strangely, that might have been the low point of the year for him. His reign came with a heel turn and a new enforcer in Tyrus, but it never quite worked. The reign ended just a few weeks later with Matt's loss to Drew Galloway.

From there, he started a feud with Jeff Hardy and the true brilliance started to come forth. After two straight brutal losses to his brother, it seemed like Matt might be done with wrestling. But just a few weeks later, Jeff's old alter ego Willow appeared in the ring despite Jeff already being present. But after beatings at the hand of three different Willows, Matt revealed himself as the mastermind of the false form. He declared himself broken, a shadow of his former self obsessed only with the deletion of Jeff, a man he would now only refer to as Brother Nero.

He lost two more matches against Brother Nero, but Matt had one more battle in mind with his brother. The war would continue at Matt Hardy's personal compound, in a battle Matt dubbed "The Final Deletion."

And in one night, the wrestling world would change forever.

From there, the Broken Brilliance finally started to shine. Now the sole owner of the Hardy name, he brought the now "obsolete" Brother Nero into his fold. From there, the tag titles became their target, but it seemed clear this was still Matt's show. From appearances on just about every wrestling podcast still in character to promo after promo to premonition after premonition.

Over the course of the year, Matt became the biggest star in TNA by leaps and bounds, and arguably the most talked about wrestler in the world. He made King Maxel, Senor Benjamin, Vanguard 1 and even The Dilapidated Boat famous names in the wrestling world. An epic feud with Decay started the path to Delete and Decay.

He ended the year with Total Nonstop Deletion and the Tag Team Apocalypto. But Hardy's Great War is far from over.

"Delete! Delete! Delete!"

Thursday, January 12, 2017

AJ Styles: #2 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

Last year, I rated AJ as the eleventh best wrestler in the world on my personal list. Through his second year in New Japan Pro Wrestling, he completely reinvented himself as an exciting star after years of mediocre booking in TNA, where he was arguably the biggest star in the company despite TNA's seeming desire to focus on anyone but him much of the time. Two IWGP Heavyweight Championship did far more for his career than any of the five world championships he won in TNA.

Then 2016 happened.

Image credit: WWE.
Opening the year against #5 wrestler on this list in front of 25,000 fans in the Tokyo Dome couldn't have been the worst way to kick off a year. While he didn't beat Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental title there, he did manage to steal the show even as he prepared to leave New Japan for greener pastures.

The 2016 Royal Rumble continued a streak of rumble matches lacking in well thought out booking, but the one thing it got right was Styles debut as the third man in the match. While it did no favors for Roman Reigns as the newcomer already had far more cheers than the supposed top babyface of the company, it cemented Styles as an important new player in WWE. He continued his battles with names on this list, battling #7 Chris Jericho in a series of show-stealing matches yet again.

From there, WWE showed they finally understood what they missed for all the years they didn't sign AJ to the promotion. Over the spring and summer, he feuded with the company's top two stars, barely losing to Roman Reigns in two title matches then turning heel on John Cena. Alongside The Club, he would go on to pick up multiple wins over "The Face That Runs the Place." When he finally beat Cena and Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight Title, he even chose to mock Cena, dubbing himself "The Champ That Runs the Camp."

Since SummerSlam, AJ has dominated Smackdown's programming. It is hard to argue he's the best booked talent in the company today. He's been so impressive on the roster that he even was able to eat three straight losses to James Ellsworth without a bump in the step of his run on top of the WWE mountain.

While AJ turns forty later this year, he's barely lost a step in the wrestling ring since he was a young up-and-comer in the final days of WCW. One of the most seasoned stars in professional wrestling, if he stays healthy he could have an equally impressive 2017 with a place on the top of the Smackdown card very likely. Even if he should drop the title pre-Wrestlemania, AJ still has the potential to have an epic spot at that card, with rumors of Shawn Michaels coming out of retirement for one last match against "The Phenomenal One".

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Asuka: #3 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

116 matches. 0 losses.

In sheer dominance, no one holds a candle to the woman once known as Kana. She has dominated the women's division of NXT since the year began. Not even Bayley's road to glory could slow her down. She dominated Bayley, Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James over the course of the year. She handed multiple talents losses in under a minute.

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And let's get this out of the way: Goldberg never looked this good as he dominated his way through WCW.

For while Asuka's win streak in NXT is impressive, perhaps it is her uncanny in ring acumen that should really get the most talk here. You can count on one hand the number of WWE talents as gifted as she is in striking and technical prowess. She can even pull out high flying moves when necessary although with her kicks and the Asuka Lock, she rarely needs to even think about the ropes.

At 35, she's older than almost every other woman on WWE's roster. (Only Tamina and the recently re-signed Mickie are older.) But though she's wrestling for over a decade, she's always worked a far more limited schedule than a regular WWE talent. Mixed with a style that looks aggressive but is built to limit much of the wear and tear a wrestler faces in the ring, she still has a lot of years ahead of her. With few injuries in her background, she seems built to be a dominant player in WWE well into her 40s.

Of course, when she arrives on the main roster will be anyone's guess. But in the mean time, expect her to be dominant on NXT until she's ready to be called up. And even if she loses the title, don't expect it to be by pinfall. WWE has triple threats and fatal four ways specifically to keep characters like Asuka dominant for many more months to come.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The 2016 Honorable Mentions List, Part Two

Tomorrow, we will return with the first of the top three, but today we take a look back at everyone else that made an impact in 2016. These figures all received multiple votes in our awards, but didn't quite earn enough to make it into the Top 10.
Image credit: WWE.
  • Alexa Bliss: I would make a strong argument that Alexa earns a "Most Improved" award for the year. She showed tons of character on Smackdown Live and pretty much made that women's division competitive. Her feud with Becky Lynch has been nothing short of epic, and I look forward to her continuing her dominance in 2017. 
  • Rosemary: TNA's resident mistress of decay has combined epic character work with her already capable in ring style, honed by years on the Canadian indies and in SHIMMER (where she played a very different character.) Joe Crowe sums her up wonderfully, saying, "She spews different colors of mist. And she, unlike almost all other big-league female wrestlers, has a character that goes beyond 'Lady who wrestles.'"
  • Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson: It's no surprise there's crossover between the people that voted for The Revival and those who voted for Charlotte. Both of them have a lot of old school nostalgia at their base, but I personally think The Revival currently have a stronger game than the Raw Women's Champion.
  • Seth Rollins: I can think of only a few big returns as bungled as WWE bringing back Seth Rollins. From his return as a heel to his turn against Triple H that hasn't shown any story progression (because that feud can't start until Wrestlemania season) to a series of so-so matches with Kevin Owens, he just could not get off the ground with Raw's weak booking. 
  • Bobby Roode: Roode had a good first few months of the year in TNA as one half of Beer Money, but I doubt anyone voted for him for that. His Glorious arrival in NXT has revitalized his career. His song has inspired a great new character for him and he looks to have a strong 2017 in a feud with Shinsuke Nakamura. Of the names on this list, he's the one I suspect will rise the most on next year's list.
  • Dean Ambrose: Dean seems like he'll never quite make this list. He's a solid in ring worker, but his gimmick and his go to spots have become stale as a babyface. Only Roman Reigns more desperately needs a heel turn in WWE. 
  • Becky Lynch: Becky finally received a title in WWE, but her run as inaugural Smackdown Women's Champion was dwarfed by the rise of Alexa Bliss. As a babyface, she makes a far better underdog than she does a top dog which hopefully will mean a feud with La Luchadora in the coming weeks will give her some good in ring time without immediate rematch after rematch against Alexa.
  • Sasha Banks: Last year's number one had some more great matches in 2016, but her year just couldn't compare to the previous. After a great Wrestlemania match, several of her matches with Charlotte were good but none seemed to be the game changing bouts she had with Bayley in the previous year. Still, Sasha could have a huge run in WWE still ahead of her, especially if she could make a move to the blue brand. 
  • Tetsuya Naito: The leader of Los Ingobernables De Japon had one of the best years of any wrestler in New Japan. He won both the World Title and the Intercontinental Title, which he continues to hold as of this writing. While the return of Suzukigun might make Los Ingobernables play second fiddle for a bit, he's still cemented himself as a top star in the promotion and arguably a suitable replacement for Nakamura at the main event. Additionally, he has put up some of the best matches of any NJPW star in ROH where he's wrestled a great feud with Jay Lethal. 
Naito does evil like no one else. Image credit: NJPW.
That's the complete list of everyone that fell below the Top 10 line. With it, you may be able to determine your guesses for the top three wrestlers of the year. Any ideas? Share them in the comments below!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Charlotte: #4 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

Full disclosure: Charlotte is the highest ranked wrestler on this list I didn't vote for myself. While she was dominant in the Raw Women's Division through 2016, I didn't feel her in ring work was really as good as it could have been. If anything, I still feel like Charlotte has regressed since moving from NXT to WWE.

Charlotte very rarely was seen without Dana in her corner in 2016.
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But this vote isn't just about me. Every other person that voted gave her a rating, most within their top five wrestlers. After just falling outside of the top ten last year, a strong argument could certainly be made for Charlotte's inclusion in the 2016 list. She wrestled at every single Raw or dual brand pay-per-view of the year. Her only pay-per-view loss was a tag match against Bayley and Sasha Banks, and even then Dana took the pinfall instead of her. And while she traded the title with Sasha on multiple Raw matches over the year, she's remained undefeated in singles competition on pay-per-view.

Of course, like all Raw heel champions, she depends solely on shenanigans to pick up the majority of her victories. While I don't hate the idea of heels cheating by any means, often Raw champions start to feel like Russo booked events with their endless need for cheap endings.

Contributor Joe Crowe—who ranked Charlotte as the top wrestler of the year—might best describe her success in the list. "For a wrestling history geek, it's just neat to see a legacy wrestler do well. But Charlotte doesn't try to be cool, she tries to be an old-school heel. I dig it."

Clearly, Joe was far from alone and that's why Charlotte deserves her place on the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016.

The Top Ten returns next week with the top three wrestlers of the year, starting with the highest ranked female wrestler on the list!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shinsuke Nakamura: #5 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

"Fight forever!"

Those were the words chanted at Shinsuke Nakamura during his very first WWE match, an NXT bout two days before Wrestlemania between himself and Sami Zayn that lasted over twenty minutes. The bout was a match of the year contender smack dab in the middle of one of the best cards anywhere in wrestling in 2016.

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But it wasn't Nakamura's first great highlight of 2016. That actually came on January 4th while still working for New Japan Pro Wrestling. He and AJ Styles put on the match of the night at Wrestle Kingdom 10 where Nakamura barely edged out the Bullet Club's leader to retain the Intercontinental title. Styles' show of respect post-match actually proved the catalyst that would have the rest of the Club turn on him and Styles leave the promotion for WWE himself.

Nakamura wrestled several great farewell matches for NJPW shortly afterward before he traveled to America for his NXT debut. He quickly became dominant on NXT television, where he successfully won every match he was in from March until November. He beat Zayn, Tye Dillinger, Austin Aries and Finn Balor all on his way to taking on Samoa Joe in August to win his first NXT championship.

Of course, Samoa Joe would also hand him his first loss, but Nakamura bounced back with two more big wins in the month of December to secure his place as NXT champ. Now he seems poised to ring in the new year in incredible ways for the brand.

Nakamura's unique charisma and aggressive in ring style make him one of the most interesting figures to watch on WWE television. Coupled with some great if often simple productions around him (look no farther than the Lee England Jr. violin solo at Takeover: Brooklyn II) and he shines like a star.

He's also one of the few stars I suspect will make a major splash on the main roster in 2017. The sky is truly the limits for the King of Strong Style, a man I doubt has seen his last entry in the year end Top 10 in 2016.

Next time, we will look at the very first talent to get a number one vote in the list and the only multi-generational star in the Top 10.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Kenny Omega: #6 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

I am actually a bit sad that more wrestling fans aren't familiar with the impressive credentials of New Japan regular Kenny Omega. Though he makes sporadic appearances in Ring of Honor, he's mostly an NJPW stalwart. The Canadian has been a Japanese regular for a decade now, speaks the language and has become the key player in the Bullet Club in the wake of Styles, Gallows and Anderson's disappearance.

Image credit: Senor Lariato
In the process, he's done things gaijin wrestlers don't normally do. Now his sudden shot into the main event isn't necessarily abnormal. AJ Styles basically debuted to win the World title. But the shots he's received are very different. He beat ace Tanahashi to become Intercontinental champion, only to drop it to Michael Elgin. He feuded with both men for most of the summer and scored numerous victories over both, albeit without recovering the title.

But the most impressive feat of 2016 was his victory in the finals of the G1 Climax. The world's most prestigious tournament has regularly featured outside stars, but rarely do they reach the finals. In 26 previous G1 tournaments, only two non-Japanese stars ever made it to the finals: Rick Rude (in the only single elimination version of the tournament) and Karl Anderson. Neither won. Kenny Omega broke that drought, becoming the first North American star to ever win the prestigious tournament. In the process, he was also the first gaijin to ever main event a Wrestle Kingdom. While that event held earlier today falls out of the purview of the 2016 award, just his movement towards that event was impressive. He scored victory after victory over NJPW champion Kazuchika Okada in multi-man matches leading towards the event.

This is all very impressive for a wrestler that wasn't even considered a heavyweight in NJPW until January 5th of 2016. His rise has been astronomical and he backed up every ounce of it with impressive in ring work, both on his own and as a trio with the Young Bucks. The three men won the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag title twice in 2016 and remain the only team to successfully defend it more than once.

Omega ended 2016 as arguably the best in ring worker in the world and the second highest man on the NJPW roster. Despite a loss today, he seems poised to make even bigger strides in 2016.

Next, we will look at a very different Japanese star, one that made major waves in two promotions this year.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Chris Jericho: #7 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

It's actually a bit hard to write about our number seven pick in the yearly top 10. Chris Jericho has been an icon of wrestling for over twenty years now, with almost eighteen of those in WWE. He's won a ridiculous number of titles, stood atop the WWE on several occasions and even main evented a Wrestlemania. But for the first time in quite awhile, he showed in 2016 why he was a living legend (with all apologies to Larry Zbyszko.)

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After a solid showing in the 2016 Royal Rumble (where he entered sixth), he went on to an extended feud with AJ Styles that would steal the show on multiple pay-per-views. Most people expected him to leave after his feud with Styles ended, as Jericho has regularly worked only the months around Wrestlemania, but he re-upped his three month contracts to continue his run, first feuding with Dean Ambrose, whom he lost the Money in the Bank match too only a few short weeks after being impaled on a bed of thumbtacks.

From there though, his rebirth really took off. With The List firmly in place and a friendship with Kevin Owens forming, he would soon help his fellow Canadian as Owens fought to retain his WWE Universal title.

These awards are based on in ring work, but I honestly think some of Jericho's best work has been outside regular matches. His backstage segments have been stupendous and The List is responsible for numerous comedic segments like only Jericho can do. (Though I would take more references to "armbar".)

Let's be honest: Jericho is in the twilight of his career. At 46, he's still in impressive shape, but a body can only hold out so long. I doubt his current run will last all the way through 2017. But Jericho's ever present work to reinvent himself continues to make him one of the most compelling figures on WWE television and that was more than enough to score him a spot in this list.

Next up, a Japanese superstar finally gets on the list, but it's probably not who you suspect...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Samoa Joe: #8 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

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Last year, Samoa Joe wasn't able to crack even the Top 20 wrestlers of 2016, ending the year in a tie with his perennial rival in the first half of 2016, Finn Balor. But while Finn lost half his year to injury, Samoa Joe put on amazing performances night after night atop the NXT card.

He so dominated the top of the NXT roster that he was the only wrestler in any promotion to fight in the main event of every pay-per-view / special event for the company. His feuds first with Finn Balor and later with Shinsuke Nakamura dominated NXT storytelling for much of the year. While he lost in two title matches at NXT Takeover events, he went completely undefeated on NXT television for the year before his Osaka loss to Shinsuke Nakamura was aired in December.

2016 was easily the Samoan Submission Specialist's best year since the peak of his TNA run in 2008. And he did it while likely wrestling in front of crowds far larger than TNA ever gave him, with crowds ranging up to 15,000 fans for his main event spots at NXT Takeover. He effectively accomplished everything he could on the developmental brand, winning the NXT championship on two occasions, making him the first person to ever hold that belt more than once. He handed Shinsuke Nakamura his first loss as well, even if Nakamura came back to dominate him at the end of the year.

2017 should bring more glory for Samoa Joe as he looks towards a main roster debut. Smart money puts him on Smackdown, perhaps even as soon as the Royal Rumble. A dominating performance there could spell great things for his future with the biggest wrestling company in the world.

Next up, we look toward a long time star that experienced a latter day career renaissance in 2016.