NOW WHILST THIS YEAR HAS BEEN AN ABSOLUTE DUMPSTER FIRE FOR MOST, IT ACTUALLY HAS BEEN AN AMAZING YEAR FOR PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING.
So much has gone on in this last 12 months that if you told me the night before the Royal Rumble 2016 that by years end Kevin Owens, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura would be the three main title holders in WWE and a guy from Rainham, Essex would be one of the biggest free agents on the planet – I would call you a dirty liar and demand to know what species of frog you have been licking. It is nigh on impossible to narrow it down to just ten, but I have given it a go.
Here are (in my opinion) the ten biggest moments in wrestling in 2016.
- Retirement of Daniel Bryan
Didn’t want to start off on a downer but alas we must. On February 8th 2016, Daniel Bryan announced via twitter that he had to retire from in ring competitions due to medical reasons. His retirement speech on Raw was the second time I have ever cried at a wrestling segment (the first being Edge’s retirement). A man that has literally given his life to being between inside those three ropes, had to give up the thing he loved for his own personal safety, and not to get too extreme, existence. The key word that came from his farewell address was ‘Grateful’ and whilst we were incredibly sad we never got see Bryan vs Lesnar or even Bryan vs Nakamura (all of which could have happened in 2016 if it wasn’t for that injury) I think we were all grateful to see one of the greatest people ever to lace up a pair of boots.
- The Rise of British Wrestling
British Wrestling is awesome, and all the hard work from 2015 that Progress, ICW, RevPro amongst many others did paid off in 2016 over and over and over again. We saw matches from Progress and RevPro on WWE’s official YouTube channel and on WWE television. Britain’s best and brightest were allowed to showcase all across the United States, Japan and more. Will Ospreay signed with NJPW and became arguably the biggest non WWE wrestling star on the planet (more on him later). The aforementioned Ospreay and Marty Scurll being signed to ROH. Insane Championship Wrestling doing a show at the SSE Hydro in Scotland. WhatCulture Pro Wrestling coming in and changing the game with their profile and *ahem* money. We now end the year with British Wrestling FINALLY coming back to major television with World of Sport on ITV on New Years Eve and WWE announcing the tournament to crown the first ever WWE United Kingdom Champion in January 2017 in what will be a shoe-in for one of the biggest moments in 2017. Britain is now back on the map as a wrestling powerhouse and looks to remain that way for years to come.
- Death of Kris Travis
Sorry to bring the mood down again, but with all the joy and excitement that British Wrestling had in 2016 – it still suffered it’s dose of heartache that came out in spades in spades seemingly this year. British wrestling superstar Kris Travis was well known across the United Kingdom for his phenomenal matches and being one of the nicest guys to ever meet. His diagnosis of stomach cancer in 2014 shocked all that knew and supported him and even after beating it once, it came back in late 2015 forcing him to retire. Kris Travis sadly passed away on March 31st, 2016 and the tributes that poured out from the world of wrestling showed how important and loved he was by all. On a personal note, I went to the first PCW show (his home promotion) following his death and the love and respect that man had and still has resonated throughout the event. It was very emotional, very tough, but a great tribute to a great man. The world misses you Trav.
- Death of Chyna
It gets cheerier I promise. Wrestling didn’t escape for the perpetual dick dicking that was 2016. Chyna’s shock death was announced on April 20th, 2016 when she was found unresponsive at her home in California of what is now believed to be an overdose. Despite her activities and issues out of the ring and if we are honest, the backstage events that may have led to those events when he was in the ring, she was remembered for her career as a trailblazer for woman wrestlers everywhere. The first female in the Royal Rumble, King of The Ring, and the first female to win the WWF Intercontinental title – Chyna was arguably one of the most over talents in the Attitude Era. Her career will now hopefully be remembered for all the good things she did in the squared circle, it is just a shame that it took her passing for that to come to light.
- The New Japan Four in WWE
WrestleKingdom 10 was the best pay-per-view event of 2016 and I will fight you if you say otherwise. But the news that followed this ended up changing the shape of WWE for the rest of the years. Just hours after the show ended, it was reported that AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson had all signed with WWE. Then it all went mental. 24 hours later, AJ was kicked out of Bullet Club. Then WWE did a speculative article on whether they signed (way to be subtle there guys). Following that on January the 24th, AJ Styles made his surprise debut in the Royal Rumble. April 1st saw Shinsuke Nakamura make his debut at NXT Takeover: Dallas. April 11th; We saw the debut of Gallows and Anderson. Now, say what you want about the push (or lack thereof) of Gallows and Anderson, but AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura came into the company and by years end are two of the three or four main champions in the WWE. AJ Styles beat John Cena…TWICE. They changed the game in World Wrestling Entertainment no question, and considering they were all in a different company and nowhere near our thoughts of a fed run this time last year it is a true case of ‘what a difference a year makes’.
- Brand Split
After years of people begging for the end of the brand split in WWE, it finally happened and then many people (as is the case with wrestling fans) were clamouring for it back, saying that one brand meant others would not get a chance. Their prayers were answered when it was announced on May 25th 2016 that SmackDown would be going live and would have a unique brand and roster. This was confirmed on July 11th when the second ever WWE draft (not draft lottery that’s different) was announced. It changed the landscape of WWE. Raw and SmackDown were completely revamped. Finn Balor, American Alpha and Alexa Bliss amongst others were called up to the main roster. THE FREAKING CRUISERWEIGHT DIVISION WAS BROUGHT BACK. It completely flipped the WWE upside down and gave us two unique products again. We got a Heath Slater storyline, we have AJ Styles as champion, Finn Balor was (meant to be) the first ever WWE Universal Champion. It was a brave new world and WWE was unrecognizable from where it was in January of this same year.
- Cruiserweight Classic
When this was announced, the internet wrestling fanbase had a simultaneous wet dream. The amazing thing about it was, it was the first thing possibly ever in wrestling that was BETTER than we imagined. Independent Wrestlers like Zack Sabre Jr, Jack Gallagher, Noam Dar, Kota Ibushi, Tony Nese and Drew Gulak all wrestled on WWE television with their own names, moves and styles. We saw Brian Kendrick and Tajiri return. We had Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan on commentary. This was pretty much a WWE Universe brand on 2k17 come to life and were all hooked throughout the summer. It was also possibly the tournament with the most MOTY candidates in this year, and usually you need to have a Battle in Los Angeles or a Climax to have that lofty moniker. Gargano vs Ciampa, Alexander vs Ibushi, Ibushi vs Kendrick, TJP vs Metalik and so many more that I can’t remember right now. It was superb, it was dramatic, it was hard hitting and it was WRESTLING. In its purest form it was WRESTLING. We all wait with baited breath on how the UK Championship tournament will fair and will it capture our hearts the same way the purple coloured, computer character jumping, wrestlefest of awesome did this past year.
- Will Ospreay vs Vader
This happened this year. I don’t think this gets enough notice for just how batshit this was, and how mental this was when it came about. Now, I have to kind of explain the end before we talk about the beginning here (spoilers for what number two is there) but this happened due to the fallout of Vader’s comments on THAT Will Ospreay vs Ricochet match. Tweeted barbs were thrown, Vader bombs were done sarcastically, masks were ripped and threats were shared in equal measure. Then, RevPro decided to book this match on the 12th August leading many people (including me on our podcast) to assume that if this actually happens, that Vader is going to murder Ospreay until he dies from it. What followed was a very strange, very weird match were it got a bit work-shooty, there was attitude era-esque fighting outside of the ring and interference from Pete Dunne, then Vader won. The old, out-of-shape Vader beat arguably of the best wrestlers in the world. Will then cut a shoot promo insinuating that Vader would not put him over. This was very weird, very strange but a standout match that closed a bizarre chapter in wrestling that was caused by….
- Will Ospreay vs Ricochet
On the 27th of May, Will Ospreay faced Ricochet in a group stage bout in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Best of The Super Juniors tournament. What followed this highly athletic, acrobatic display of high flying prowess was the entire wrestling world seemingly going into all out meltdown. Vader bemoaned it as ‘a gymnastics routine’ where others, like Steve Austin and William Regal praised them on their athleticism. This was seemingly professional wrestling’s Brexit; pitting fan against fan, friend against friend and wrestler against wrestler. It split the wrestling world. This whole furore did however push Ospreay and Ricochet’s names into the wrestling stratosphere and arguably, both would not be as big as they are right now if it wasn’t for this match earlier this year. I think this was the most controversial incident in wrestling of 2016, and why it is number two in my list.
- The Final Deletion
If you woke up on January 1st, 2016; slightly bleary eyed from the night before and someone sat you down as you ate your cornflakes and told you that by the years end, Matt Hardy would be the most memorable wrestler of the coming year, alongside his son, his gardener and Vanguard One; you would tell them to stop drinking you big booze, get out of your house and ask them what a Vanguard One is. However, a certain Hardy became BROKEN this year and somehow got himself more over than he has ever been in his career. Following being kayfabe injured by his brother Jeff in April of this year, he came back with wild bushy hair, an accent that no one could really place and an obsession with deleting ‘Brother Nero’. July 5th, 2016 was ‘The Final Deletion’ and it is without question the most memorable match in wrestling this year, if not in the last few years. It had a drone that was seemingly sentient, firework bazookas, A DELIPIDATED BOAT and it ended with Jeff Hardy losing the rights to his own name. It was bizarre, it was ridiculous – it was what wrestling is in its essence. A few purists are not fans of this new incarnation of Matt Hardy but for my money, it is what has keeping Impact Wrestling alive (just) this year – and trust me, it came close to not being that way a few times and it has shown that still in an industry now that can be seen as taking itself a bit too seriously and not allowing room to be creative, that you can still think outside of the box and be successful. This was followed by Delete or Decay, The Great War and the amazing Total Nonstop Deletion (of which you can hear our opinions here) and Broken Matt Hardy is now one of the most in demand talents on the planet right now. Hell, even WWE were reportedly interested in bringing him back. Will it get old in 2017? Who can tell – but for right now, it is without question the biggest moment in wrestling in 2016.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.