Regardless of what promotion you love most, pro-wrestling has been amazing for fans this year with fantastic matches all over the place. We have seen some people rise up on our radar, while others fell off. It has been a tough year for a few wrestlers, with injuries plaguing a large host of people from Seth Rollins to the top man in the world of pro-wrestling himself, John Cena.
All the injured WWE stars made a comeback, but they weren’t the only ones. In New Japan Pro Wrestling, Kota Ibushi came back from a career-threatening injury. He even left NJPW and DDT in Japan to have more freedom due to the situation and made his first WWE appearance in the Cruiserweight Classic. There we saw amazing matches with some of the best in the world too.
Everywhere you look, amazing wrestlers have made a name for themselves. This has been a huge thing for every major promotion. Some literally carried their promotion while others help to continue increasing stock in their promotion. Meanwhile, others simply made themselves look better, but that isn’t a bad thing either!
For this list, we will look at the kayfabe accomplishments of each man combined with the quality he has been able to provide his promotion. This means the best of the best will make the list while others you may expect to see may not make the cut. The order was decided based on success in kayfabe, match quality, what they did for their promotion/brand, and their current situation compared to the start of the year. Enjoy.
15. Roman Reigns
Whether you like him or hate him, and most are in the latter category, he has been successful this year. He began the year as WWE World Heavyweight Champion until he lost it during the Royal Rumble match to Triple H. He would end up fighting The Game at WrestleMania 32 where he would re-capture the title to a sea of boos.
He would drop the title to Seth Rollins a few months later after being popped for failing the WWE Wellness Policy reportedly due to Adderall usage without prescription. He would then find his way back into another title picture with Rusev, this time for the WWE United States Championship.
He would end up beating the Bulgarian Brute for the title, and he has held it ever since. He is now involved in the WWE Universal Title picture where he could always win. Few had more kayfabe success as Roman, but there has also been a number of good matches with the likes of Rusev, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and AJ Styles. Hate him or love him, he had a good year.
There is not a lot of bad that can be spoken about Bobby Lashley. He has been killing it in Bellator MMA, the real fight world, but he has also done well in the world of pro-wrestling with TNA Wrestling. He has been TNA World Champion this year with a great reign and had great matches with Kurt Angle in his last run with the company.
Lashley has been one of the few bright spots in TNA, which has seen better days for sure. However, the fact that he made that TNA Title mean something at a time when people don’t think much about TNA is a testament to how well Lashley performed while champion. He seemed to win every title one could win this year as well. The decoration of titles made him unstoppable and that meant he belonged on the list.
Call him the Japanese Marty McFly if you want, but Kushida has been one hell of a performer this year as one of the top Junior Heavyweights in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He started the year off hot when he beat Kenny Omega for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title in January. He dropped the title to Bushi in September before regaining it and happens to be the champion at this present writing.
Kushida is someone that several companies want, but being a NJPW guy means he is stuck being one of the best in the world in a place where he does not get nearly enough attention. What he has done for the division this year has been amazing and that makes him one of the top guys in the world today.
12. Jay Lethal
Jay Lethal’s 2015 was pretty big, but 2016 was very interesting for him too. He came in as the ROH World Champion and remained a top star for the promotion the entire year. They even used him to help set up other guys they were trying to get over. When you get big enough where people have to go through you to get to a top spot, you’re obviously a respected star for your promotion.
The thing about Lethal is that he is a big fish in a small pond. This was why he held both the TV and World Title for over 400 days each, which also speaks to the trust that the company has in him. There is proof that Lethal clearly has all the tools and his matches all year long have proven that he is one of the top wrestlers on the planet.
11. Chris Jericho
While Chris Jericho has not been a champion this year, he has managed to do the impossible…get over despite not being a main focus. He would start the year initially working with AJ Styles and delivering great matches with the Phenomenal One. From there he would randomly work with Kevin Owens until the brand split came along and the two became best friends.
Jericho would then develop a list and slowly begin to get over each week to a point that people cheered when the list was used. Funny enough, the interest in Jericho and WWE RAW improved because of what he was doing. Yet he was not involved personally in a lot of title matches or major rivalries. He simply got over and for that, he surely deserves on this list.
10. Will Ospreay
Will Ospreay managed to make a huge name for himself on the independent scene this year. Taking the chance of his life and leaving TNA Wrestling paid off well and everyone now seems to want him. Ospreay would win this year’s New Japan Super Juniors Tournament. He did not stop there, he also managed to win the Revolution Pro World Title.
From there he would go on to Ring of Honor and win their Television Championship as well. His stock rose heavily this year due to his amazing ability in the ring. He’s still a bit green, but at 23 years old he has proven that the potential he has might be endless. This man has 99 potential at an 85 ranking. Imagine what would happen once he learns a bit more. Dear God…
9. Matt Hardy
Many think you have to be in the WWE to get attention, but that is not the case. Matt Hardy managed to come up with a character that could catch attention by all, and possibly singlehandedly helped TNA stay relevant all year long. His work was absolutely terrific and while crazy at first, it eventually caught on with wrestling fans.
He did have a run with the TNA World Title, but the real kicker for him had to do with the deletion material. He was amazing all year long and continued his crazy but intriguing material when TNA held Total Nonstop Deletion recently. Really, Matt may have not impressed with a lot of matches, but his creativity needs to be admired and fans could not be happier for it.
8. Kevin Owens
Few have managed to accomplish what Kevin Owens has. The man walked into WWE and demanded an NXT Title shot, got it, won it, and became a major force. He even turned on his former best friend Sami Zayn in order to accomplish this. His 2015 was great, but his 2016 was great too. He would win the WWE Intercontinental Championship toward the beginning of the year and from there he would have great matches with Sami Zayn who came at him for retribution over taking him out with an injury(storyline).
Oh and there was this little thing about winning the WWE Universal Championship too, which remains in his possession currently. Finn Balor would originally win the Universal Title at Summerslam but have to give it up due to injury, this led to a title match for the gold the following week. KO would go on to win due to Triple H coming back to pedigree both Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. He would hand the gold to Owens as you see above, and the rest was history. KO has had a great year thus far, and while he may not have elevated WWE RAW as much as people might want, he has had a year that needs to be discussed. He has been one of the best reasons to watch this year with great matches and promos all year long. If there is one reason to thank 2016, it is for the rise of Kevin Owens for sure.
7. Finn Balor
Finn Balor may have gotten hurt in August, but his year leading up to his injury was absolutely amazing. He became the longest reigning NXT Champion in the history of the brand as he carried the title into the year. He had amazing matches with Samoa Joe and then a great one with Shinsuke Nakamura in NXT as well.
From there he headed to the main roster where he won two matches on the same night, one against Roman Reigns. All of this to qualify for a match at WWE SummerSlam against Seth Rollins to go after the very first WWE Universal Championship. He would become the inaugural champion but sadly sustained an injury during the match causing him to need surgery. He is expected back in early 2017, but the year of 2016 was certainly good to him.
6. Seth Rollins
While Seth may have lost that Universal Title match mentioned before, he did have a huge year upon his comeback. He would return to WWE to pedigree Roman Reigns. The following month he would take the World Title back that he never lost at WWE Money in the Bank. Sadly, Dean Ambrose would cash in on him in the same night, ironically. Seth would battle for the title and eventually go on to wrestle for the inaugural Universal Title for the rest of the year.
All of this while coming back from a massive knee injury few thought he would come back from. The Architect managed to not just come back, but come back better than before. The matches he has had have been great, with everyone realizing they were watching greatness in the ring. Rollins capped off his year with a great match against Chris Jericho at WWE Roadblock.
5. Samoa Joe
There is not a lot of bad to say about Samoa Joe this year. He has had great matches all year long. Namely, his matches with Finn Balor were terrific, and no one thought he could be stopped. However, once Shinsuke Nakamura took the NXT Title from him he went on a rampage demanding to face Nakamura. He ran through the NXT roster until he got him and then managed to take his NXT Championship back like he said he would.
He would drop the title again to Nakamura, but not before becoming the first two-time NXT Champion in the history of the brand. Samoa Joe has been absolutely amazing this year and definitely deserves his spot in the top five.
4. Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose fought Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32, that much should be commended. However, he would then go on to win Money in the Bank and cash it in on the same night. He would beat both former Shield members in Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns in a triple threat to retain that very title and would become the first pick for SmackDown Live in the WWE Draft.
Talk about a year. Add in an impressive rivalry with AJ Styles and their freaking awesome TLC match, and you have one great year. Oh yeah, and he also helped to elevate James Ellsworth a bit too. This last accomplishment should be enough for top five alone, but the other stuff definitely doesn’t hurt.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura
When you talk about years of greatness, Shinsuke Nakamura may have his picture on the very definition of it. Starting the year off hot as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, he would have an amazing match with AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10. From there he would leave NJPW and head to WWE. He would arrive at WWE NXT Takeover: Dallas during WrestleMania weekend where he would take on Sami Zayn, who also just returned to action at the time.
His first night the man had a match of the year candidate with Zayn. From there he had awesome matches with great workers like Austin Aries and Finn Balor before finally ending up with the “Samoan Submission Machine” Samoa Joe where the two had one of the best NXT rivalries in years. All matches would be hard-hitting and brutal. Nakamura did not mind keeping up with the amount of hard strikes Joe brought, which made for some amazing pops during their matches.
Nakamura would give countless amazing matches to us and make us want to see him “fight forever.” Nakamura managed to do something few have been able to accomplish. He would talk through action. The Japanese born Nakamura may not be the best with the English language, but he can hit hard and fast with no consideration for his opponent. This made him a hit with fans right away and it made him one of the best performers of the year with countless amazing performances in the ring all year long.
2. AJ Styles
AJ Styles started the year well with his match against Nakamura, but quickly found himself out of NJPW’s Bullet Club and in WWE. He would make an appearance in the Royal Rumble match to make his debut and last a while. He would have an impressive match against Chris Jericho at his first WrestleMania event. Then from there he would wrestle Roman Reigns in a few great match-ups. Club members Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson would join him in coming to the WWE and eventually forming The Club faction.
This would cause a faction war between The Club and The Family, made up of Reigns and the Usos. This led to a couple great matches as well. He would then enter a rivalry with John Cena, officially turning heel. He would have two match of the year candidates with the 15 time World Champion. From there he would go on to win the WWE World Title that he holds today. This on top of his great rivalry with Dean Ambrose. Truly few could come close to the year AJ had. He might very well be the 2016 WWE Superstar of the Year.
1. Kenny Omega
Few people could come close to Kenny Omega this year. In NJPW, he would be responsible for kicking AJ Styles out as the leader of the Bullet Club. He would take over the club himself and he, along with the Young Bucks would start calling themselves The Elite. This led to Kenny winning the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and eventually the NEVER Openweight Tag Titles with the Bucks.
He would then go on to win the G1 Climax, which was huge as he was the only non-Japanese man to ever do this. It would earn him the right to face Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, which will happen this January in Tokyo, Japan. There is not a lot that can be said against the man and he perhaps had the best year of any wrestler alive this year.