There are just a couple of days left in the year 2016, so there’s no better time for us to remember some of the most memorable moments provided by World Wrestling Entertainment this year. From debuts to returns and some historic title changes, it’s time to reflect on the year that was in WWE.
Most of these events are positive thingss, but some of them made us sad and even a little bit angry. There’s a lot to choose from because there was more WWE content this year than any year before if you consider 52 weeks of Raw, Smackdown and NXT, plus PPV specials, NXT Takeover events, the Cruiserweight Classic, 205 Live and all of the other content that exits on WWE Network. I can assure you that no WWE fan is going to complain about a lack of content this year.
Could it be better? Sure, but there’s a lot to consume out there.
The only obvious rule with this list is that it had to have happened this past year. To borrow a Chris Jericho phrase, let’s see who just made the list… of WWE’s most memorable moments in 2016.
10. The Miz and Daniel Bryan Argue on Talking Smack – Aug. 23
Talking Smack was a new show that WWE launched in late July on WWE Network as a way to give Smackdown talents a 30-minute show to continue to put over storylines. Since Smackdown is an hour shorter than Raw, it made sense for WWE to give their talent more air time. It quickly became must-watch programming because you could tell talent was on there without a script and were able to let loose. Then The Miz appeared on Aug. 23 with one of the best promos you’ll ever see in wrestling.
Daniel Bryan, the Smackdown Live GM, was confronted by then (and current) Intercontinental Champion The Miz, along with his wife Maryse. Miz was being his annoying self when Bryan insulted him by saying that Miz “wrestles like a coward.” That remark set Miz off into a two-minute-long tirade where he talked about how he’s such a hard working guy, he loves the business, he loves performing and then he took a shot at Bryan for not being able to wrestle anymore.
What was so great about this argument was that it blurred the lines of reality. What Bryan said about Miz is what a lot of people may think because Miz isn’t known as a tough guy. He is not a hard hitter or a guy who has battled back from injuries. That’s a credit to him, though. It’s not easy to work the WWE schedule without missing dates because of injury, yet Miz has been able to do it for over a decade because he’s durable. In Bryan’s eyes, Miz works a safe style, which is why he said he is a coward.
Miz turned it up a notch by ripping on Bryan for not being able to wrestle anymore. Bryan retired from active competition earlier in 2016 (more on that later), so Miz used that to his advantage to upset Bryan. That’s what made it feel like a shoot, which is the term for making something “real” in wrestling.
The promo was so good that it led to a lot of fans thinking that Bryan was going to wrestle one more match against Miz. That one segment hyped up a potential match better than any match in WWE this year. Unfortunately, Bryan’s concussion problems have legitimately kept him out of the ring and it’s not going to lead to a return, which is a shame because this feud felt very personal thanks to this promo. Great job by both guys in helping to make Talking Smack such an interesting show.
9. Roman Reigns Suspended For 30 Days for Violating WWE Wellness Policy – June 21
A memorable moment doesn’t have to happen in a ring or on a television show. In today’s world where social media matters so much, it happened for Roman Reigns on Twitter.
It was a typical Tuesday afternoon as I was browsing Twitter and I saw two tweets pop up at the same time. One was from WWE saying Roman Reigns was suspended for 30 days for violating the company’s Wellness Policy and the other was from Reigns apologizing for his mistake, noting that he had no excuses.
The reason it was a huge story is that Roman Reigns was considered “The Guy” in WWE, even though a lot of the fans boo him every time they see him. He’s the chosen one by WWE’s boss Vince McMahon, so he’s the guy that has been shoved down our throats for over two years whether we want him in that spot or not.
At the time of the suspension, Reigns had just had a double countout match against Seth Rollins one night earlier on Raw. That set up the first-ever Shield triple threat match at Battleground as Reigns and Rollins were set to challenge Ambrose. The suspension meant that Reigns was off TV for the next 30 days, but Battleground was over 30 days away, so he returned for that match only to get pinned from Ambrose. That was considered punishment from Reigns, who lost a few other matches in the next month as well.
The drug that Reigns was caught using was reportedly Adderrall, which helps people with fatigue, pain and can be considered a performance enhancer as well.
Even though Reigns was suspended for 30 days this year, it wouldn’t shock me if he wins the Universal Title for the first time at January’s Royal Rumble. He will also likely be in a high profile match at WrestleMania 33 just like he was in the main event at the last two WrestleManias.
8. AJ Styles Turns Heel By Attacking John Cena – May 30 (Raw)
John Cena missed the first five months of action in WWE this year due to shoulder surgery. He had a cameo appearance at WrestleMania, but he wasn’t cleared to return to action at that point. When he came back in late May, he did a promo about how he was ready to be a part of WWE’s new era, which was the term that the company shoved down our throats for much of the year.
That led to the first-ever confrontation between John Cena and the great AJ Styles on the May 30 edition of Raw. At the time, Styles was coming off his second straight WWE Title PPV loss to Roman Reigns in which Styles impressed everybody in WWE by coming so close to winning the gold.
The crowd was hot for this meeting of Styles and Cena. They shook hands. They talked about the respect they had for one another without mentioning that Styles was a top guy in companies like TNA and New Japan before getting to WWE.
That mutual respect led to fans thinking that they would work together when Styles’ buddies Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson showed up. There was a tease that Gallows and Anderson had broken away from Styles, who told them that he didn’t want their help. Cena and Styles were ready to fight when Styles changed it up by punching Cena in the face. It drew a massive reaction from the crowd. Lots of boos for Styles although some fans cheered because they don’t like Cena. It led to Gallows and Anderson joining Styles in the beatdown on Cena.
I thought Cena vs. Styles was the best feud of the year. This was the start of it, which led to major matches at Money in the Bank and SummerSlam, which was their best match.
There weren’t that many great heel or face turns in WWE in 2016. I thought Styles’ turn was the best one. Here’s hoping for more surprises in 2017.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn at NXT Takeover Dallas – April 1
It may have been April Fool’s Day, but at the NXT Takeover Dallas event on April 1 two nights before WrestleMania, Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn had one of the best wrestling matches I’ve ever seen.
The amazing thing about it is that it was Nakamura’s first televised match in a WWE ring after signing a deal to join the company in early January. I had seen quite a bit of his work in Japan, but you never know how his talents might fit in WWE where they don’t have anybody else like him.
With Zayn, we knew he was great. He had proven himself in WWE for two years and in other companies before that. Zayn was one of the most popular guys in the history of NXT that received a massive ovation.
Nakamura’s entrance was incredible. The violins were playing, he was rocking to every beat, the crowd went wild for him and if you watch NXT with any regularity then you know that crowds are still going wild for Nakamura.
There was no storyline for the match and neither guy took on a role as the bad guy. It was all about having the most entertaining 20-minute match they possibly could. There were so many incredible moves in the match, they countered some spots in a cool way and built up to the finish incredibly well. The amount of nearfalls clearly won over the hot crowd.
What I loved about the match is that it felt more like a fight than a typical pro wrestling match. You could see how much it meant for both guys to try to win the match even though, as I said, there was no storyline in place and neither one played the bad guy. It was all about being the better man. Nakamura went on to win after a flying knee to the back of the head followed by a Kinshasa knee strike after 20 grueling minutes. Both guys received well deserved standing ovations after the match was over.
I realize this was a match rather than a moment, but I felt like I had to include the match of the year on here. Other matches I really loved this year included Styles vs. Cena at SummerSlam and The Revival vs. #DIY at NXT Takeover Toronto. Nakamura vs. Zayn was my match of the year above all the rest.
6. Kevin Owens Wins the WWE Universal Championship – Aug. 29 (Raw)
Finn Balor became the first WWE Universal Champion when he defeated Seth Rollins at SummerSlam in August. Unfortunately, during that match there was a spot where Rollins gave Balor a Powerbomb into the barricade. The move led to Balor suffering a severe shoulder injury that required surgery and he’s out of action until February or March most likely.
In order to crown a new champion, WWE set up a Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way Elimination match on the Aug. 29 edition of Raw. The match featured Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens and Big Cass. I remember thinking how much I wanted Owens to win, but I figured it would be Rollins or Reigns since they had been WWE Champions in the past.
The match was really good and it was given a lot of time in the main event of the show. Big Cass was the first man eliminated after the other three guys hit signature spots to eliminate the big guy. Did you know that Big Cass is seven feet tall and you can’t teach that? Yes, you probably know.
It became a triple threat match between Owens and the two former Shield members. The turning point in the match happened when Reigns hit a huge Spear on Rollins on the floor. That’s when Triple H showed up and keep in mind that Triple H wasn’t on Raw since the build-up to WrestleMania over four months earlier. He dropped Reigns with a Pedigree on the floor to take him out. Triple H rolled Rollins into the ring and Rollins pinned Reigns to eliminate him.
When Rollins was left in the match with Owens, the assumption was that Triple H was going to help Rollins win since he helped Rollins many times over the previous two years. Instead, Triple H hit Rollins with a Pedigree to the shock of everybody… including Owens. Owens had a shocked look on his face, but was smart enough to pin Rollins and Owens became the second Universal Champion. It was definitely one of the most shocking moments of the year.
From that point on, Triple H didn’t appear on Raw again this year aside from a brief shot in the parking lot where he greeted his wife Stephanie McMahon. The story is that Stephanie had no idea why Triple H did it and the fans still have no idea because we haven’t heard from Triple H.
The reason why WWE has held off on having Triple H explaining his actions from four months ago is because Triple H vs. Rollins is a likely match at WrestleMania. They didn’t want to do it at a lesser show, so look for Triple H to return to television very soon and possibly cost Rollins a Royal Rumble win as well.
As for Owens, he’s done a good job as Universal Champion, although he rarely wins clean and I hate how often he has to lose non-title matches. I’m happy for him as a performer because he deserves it.