Even the biggest fan of World Wrestling Entertainment would have to admit that 2015 was, for the most part, an up-and-down year for the company as it pertains to the product that has been presented to customers. Far too many editions of three-hour program Raw have been tedious and even downright difficult to watch from start to finish for viewers who are not fortunate enough to have DVR or Hulu. At the other end of the spectrum have been some fantastic matches that have occurred on Raw and during pay-per-view or “special” events. Then, there have been those incredible NXT shows that have probably been the best events produced by the WWE over the past 12 months.
As bad as things were for the WWE during portions of 2015, many Superstars had noteworthy and impressive years. A man who has been a polarizing figure among pockets of WWE fans for the better part of the past decade has proven to be a case of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” One of the female performers currently working underneath the WWE umbrella could, all things considered, be the best overall wrestler the company has heading into the start of 2016. The individual who tops the list is a man that the WWE is going to need back in main-event spots as WrestleMania season begins.
20. Corey Graves
The announcing that was featured on main WWE programming left a lot to be desired throughout 2015. There is, however, some hope for the future, and that hope currently helps call the action down at NXT. Corey Graves, as was explained during an episode of ESPN program E:60, had to end his dreams of making it as a pro wrestler due to issues stemming from concussions. Graves was given an opportunity to remain with the company as a commentator, and he emerged in 2015 as one of the best announcers working for the WWE. Graves was a welcome addition to the NXT booth over the past year.
The gimmick of the awkward dancing babyface who tried to “invade” portions of Raw was only going to do so many favors for Emma. As a heel who returned to NXT, though, Emma was more impressive in 2015 than at any other point of her tenure with the company. Pairing her up with Dana Brooke was another positive career move for Emma, who improved in the ring and also as a heel promo. Emma, like Brooke, was sacrificed to Asuke in 2015, but do not just assume that we have yet seen the best from Emma. She deserves another shot to join the WWE main roster in 2016.
One would not be a cynic if he was to suggest that what has been called a “Diva’s Revolution” for the main roster has not yet worked out as planned. The booking of wrestlers such as Charlotte has not helped the women’s portion of the main roster, but such poor writing does not take away from what the daughter of Ric Flair accomplished in 2015. Charlotte completed her run in NXT before she received a deserved call up to the WWE roster, where she won the Divas Championship for the first time. At least Charlotte ended 2015 working as a heel and not a babyface, which is the role that she was born to play.
17. Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe is one of several examples of somebody who could be higher on this list by the time that December 2016 comes around. Joe made his debut on NXT in 2015, and he was not surprisingly one of the best wrestlers on that brand right from the very beginning. As good as Joe was working as a babyface who completed a feud with Baron Corbin and who also teamed up with Finn Balor, Joe’s brief run as a heel who fought with Balor over the NXT Championship was even better. The “Samoan Submission Machine” should be on the main WWE roster as of January 1, 2016. Make it so.
The biggest worry with Rusev even back when he was a monster heel on NXT was that his character as the evil Russian/foreigner would only have so long of a shelf life. That proved to be true, and thus Rusev was thrown into an absurd love quadrangle that included Lana, Dolph Ziggler and Summer Rae. That storyline fortunately died a death, and Rusev is set to end 2015 as a member of the “League of Nations” faction that does not have a ton of momentum going into 2016. Rusev was impressive in 2015, but there continue to be concerns that he can only go so far unless his character undergoes additional changes.
15. Jason Jordan and Chad Gable
Jason Jordan was, no disrespect meant to the wrestler, just a guy on the NXT roster who had no real place of his own; that is, of course, until the company wisely linked him up with Chad Gable. That duo quickly became one of the most popular tag teams in all of NXT, largely because they are tremendous inside of the ring. Jordan may have the size that is commonly seen among wrestlers who become Superstars in the WWE, but Gable has the goods to be a rare talent on the main roster. The two should not, however, be broken up for a long time, and they should probably debut on the main roster in 2016 as a team.
14. Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose seemingly has everything that the WWE would want from a top performer. Ambrose has a unique look that makes him stand apart from others on the roster. He is a talented wrestler who is able to break from the mold of “typical” WWE athletes who are brought up through the company’s developmental system. Of the three former members of “The Shield,” it is Ambrose who is the best on the microphone. Ambrose is, in all honesty, probably more over among fans than Roman Reigns. Maybe 2016 will be an even bigger year for Ambrose, who won the Intercontinental Championship in December 2015.
Where you would rank Sheamus on this list may depend on how you would define “impressive” as it pertains to the fictional world of the WWE Universe. Sheamus was, after all, given the opportunity to carry the Money in the Bank briefcase for a significant amount of time. He then successfully cashed in that contract and won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Roman Reigns in November. The WWE seemingly realized that the company went in the wrong direction, however, putting the title back on Reigns just 22 days after Sheamus won the championship. Whoops.
The story remained the same for “The Phenom” in 2015 in that he continued to defy the odds and produce good matches even if he is no longer close to what he was while in his physical prime. Undertaker wrapped up his feud with Brock Lesnar during the year, as the two split matches to conclude the matter that started with Lesnar ending Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak. Sure, Undertaker and Kane making light work of the Wyatt Family did not make for the most intriguing storyline of the WWE year. Undertaker nevertheless showed in 2015 that he can still go.
11. Sasha Banks
Had this piece been produced in August and not during the final weeks of December, Sasha Banks would have been a legitimate contender for the No. 1 spot on the list of the most impressive WWE Superstars for 2015. Banks’ work in NXT, particularly her run with the women’s championship and her feud with Bayley, made for some of the best television produced by the company all year. The match that Banks and Bayley had at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was a no-doubt WWE Match of the Year candidate. Banks has the goods to be a true star in the WWE, even if she has not yet gotten to that level on the main roster.
The WWE landed pure gold when the company signed Asuka in 2015. Truth be told, the only reason that Asuka is not higher on the list of the most impressive Superstars for this past year is that she has only been a part of the NXT brand for a short time. With that said, Asuka may already be the best overall wrestler and performer that the company has at the end of 2015. Asuka has been so awesome, in fact, that it has not mattered that she is unable to cut lengthy promos. That she is somewhat of a silent assassin makes the character even more entertaining.
9. The New Day
What a run it has been for heel faction “The New Day” since it first emerged on WWE programming. What was first presented as little more than comedic relief that could have been considered by some to be a touch racist, in nature, became one of the more entertaining groups in all of the WWE in 2015. One must give the three men involved in The New Day credit for taking what could have been, on paper, an awful idea and running with it all the way to a WWE Tag Team Championship reign. New Day did, indeed, rock in 2015, but the faction may not make it through all of 2016 before it is disbanded.
8. Kevin Owens
Two of the best storylines that occurred in all of the WWE in 2015 involved Kevin Owens. The first featured Owens feuding with Sami Zayn over the NXT Championship, a title that Owens won two months to the day that he debuted in NXT. Following that successful run in NXT that ended when Owens dropped the championship to the man who is next on the list, Owens received a call-up to the WWE main roster. Owens was immediately thrown into a feud with John Cena over the United States Championship. Could Owens be on his way to having a program with Brock Lesnar in 2016?
7. Finn Balor
The WWE should, so long as the company does not make massive mistakes with the wrestler, have a future star in Finn Balor. Balor won the NXT Championship from Kevin Owens during the summer of 2015, and he has not looked back as he has carried the ball for the men’s division of the brand up through the end of the year. Nobody on the current WWE roster – no, not even Undertaker – has a better ring entrance than Balor, and Balor is an in-ring wrestler unlike anybody else working for the company. Just imagine how awesome it will be to watch Balor complete his entrance at a WrestleMania.
6. Roman Reigns
It took some time, perhaps way too much time considering how things started out once faction “The Shield” broke up, but the WWE has finally gone all-in and made Roman Reigns that WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Reigns has a long way to go before he is even close to being the next Rock or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for the company. He is not stellar on the microphone, and Reigns is also not one of the better wrestlers currently working for the WWE. Reigns could become a top star if he receives the right push, one that may involve him getting a big win over Brock Lesnar.
What was supposed to be this great Diva’s Revolution that would change the way that women’s wrestling was presented on Raw and SmackDown originated on the NXT brand, and its biggest star at the end of 2015 is undeniably Bayley. Bayley is arguably the best and most over babyface working for any part of the WWE as 2016 approaches, and her feud with Sasha Banks over the NXT Women’s Championship was one of the best storylines produced by the company in 2015. The hope, moving forward, is that the company will do right by Bayley once she is called up to the WWE main roster.
4. Seth Rollins
It is a shame that Seth Rollins was downed by a serious knee injury in November 2015, as Rollins was potentially on his way to being part of a babyface turn while serving as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Rollins stole the show and the belt when he cashed in his “Money in the Bank” contract at WrestleMania, and he had developed into one of the best performers on the roster (even if he could use a finisher that is his own and better than the Pedigree that was handed down to him by Triple H). Here is hoping that Rollins is able to make a full recovery and be better than ever once he returns to the WWE roster.
3. Triple H
Not all fans may like to see Triple H so high on the list of the most impressive WWE Superstars for 2015, but they should look at his entire body of work from January up through December before they choose to lob criticisms. Triple H was, for better or for worse, part of significant storylines throughout the calendar year. He was involved in a WrestleMania feud that included Sting. “The Authority” continues to be the major heel faction, even if it has become watered down and played out. Triple H will likely be involved in yet another big WrestleMania feud for 2016. The more things change…
2. John Cena
It is ridiculous that there are still WWE fans out there who truly believe, deep down, that John Cena is not one of the best performers working for the company today. Cena’s “United States Championship Open Challenge” was often responsible for the best segment of some awful Raw shows, and Cena had multiple memorable and entertaining matches before he took some time away from the WWE, a break that the leader of the “CeNatin” has certainly earned. Anybody who thinks that Raw has been better off with Cena not on the active roster is either looking through biased eyes or kidding himself.
1. Brock Lesnar
Just the thought of Brock Lesnar being back as a mainstay of WWE programming should make an optimistic fan believe that shows will get better from January up through the start of spring. That alone justifies Lesnar being atop the list of the most impressive WWE Superstars for 2015. Lesnar is far and away the single biggest solo act that the WWE has going for it at the end of 2015. He is the type of draw that catches the attention of a diehard fan and also of a casual viewer who has maybe become bored of the storylines that have routinely been presented during TV shows. Will the WWE properly use Lesnar in 2016? Let’s all hope so.