We have all had good days and bad days. But for a number of wrestlers, their good days were outmatched by their great days. When we add up those great days over the course of a year, what we have is an absolutely exceptional year, and “exceptional” applies to each of the wrestlers on this list. While they did not always win, and in fact often lost, these specific ten wrestlers achieved more this year than their colleagues. To be successful, they didn’t have to be part of a particular promotion or even win a title. Instead, their talent stood head and shoulders above the rest.
They were part of great matches, significant angles and storylines, or captured the attention of the viewing audience with something as simple as their presence. That is a challenging thing to do when you consider the number of wrestlers also out there lobbying for that same attention. When we consider the fact that some of these wrestlers weren’t given a chance elsewhere, it’s actually shocking. Those included on this list aren’t new to wrestling, and didn’t simply show up overnight, either. They dedicated time and effort to making themselves stand out one way or another. A number of those included also were able to use social media as a means to reach fans and stand out. Check out the 10 wrestlers that had an exceptional 2015.
10. Divas Division
What a difference a year makes for the women of the WWE. The division that is often maligned and paid little attention to turned a huge corner in 2015. What began as a simple hashtag, #GiveDivasAChance, became a movement. Unfortunately, a vital part of the getting this movement in motion, AJ Lee, is no longer with the WWE. Lee’s willingness to stand up for women’s wrestling, coupled with the growing group of talented women that were appearing in NXT contributed to the division’s evolution.
Women such as Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and current NXT champion Bayley are among those that have spearheaded that movement. Those aforementioned women have also earned the moniker of the Four Horsewomen of NXT behind the scenes. Paige and Emma were also significant in getting across the idea that women’s wrestling could be more than what had been previously presented, after their outstanding matches against one another in NXT. Former champion Nikki Bella must also be credited, as her 300-plus day rein as champion put her in a position to have to deliver at a fairly high level against a number of different challengers.
9. The Kingdom
Mike Bennett, Matt Taven, Adam Cole and Maria Kanellis have had a year to remember. While Cole was returning from injury and set to once again challenge for the Ring of Honor World Championship, Taven and Bennett were busy capturing every title they contended for. Earlier this year Taven and Bennett captured the IWGP world tag team championship. It was a sweet victory for Bennett and Taven, who hadn’t captured any tag team championship prior to this point.
Hard work, overcoming injuries earlier in their careers, and endeavoring to become a major factor in Ring of Honor has resulted in their being a primary focus of the tag team division. They recently captured the Ring of Honor tag team championship as well. This marked two separate promotions’ tag team championships that they have won within the year. It is a testament to their willingness to adapt that they have succeeded in both Japan and North America. While some may have not seen this year coming for them, they certainly believed that championship success was within their grasp.
8. The New Day
Does New Day rock? They certainly do. They make the list because of how, collectively, they are so in sync with one another. On their own, little was though of these merry men, but together they have had the opportunity to flourish with antics that waiver between childish and ridiculous. As each week passes, fans tune into Raw or Smackdown just to find out what they will do next. And they don’t disappoint.
In fact, the current WWE tag team champions continue to ride high as the faces of the division. They are a rare entity, in that they could lose the titles and still be able to capture the attention of the fans. How often could grown men make unicorns marketable? Not very often. Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston have put all their in-ring talent together and allowed their personalities to shine through. Of the group, Kofi Kingston deserves kudos in his role, as he has rarely showcased such a comical side to his character. It certainly is a New Day.
7. Prince Puma
If wrestling fans aren’t watching Lucha Underground, then they are missing out. This talented performer has been a focal point of the promotion since it first aired in the fall of 2014. Even after the show finished airing this past year, fans still would discuss Puma’s incredible season with Lucha Underground. He first appeared alongside Konnan, who spoke of his origins and how he came to be. While that certainly built up the character, Puma still had to shine on his own… and shine he did.
His matches against Johnny Mundo were exceptional. Whether it was their first match, or their “All Night Long” affair, Mundo and Puma tore the house down. He was the first ever Lucha Underground champion, as he won the battle to determine the winner. Whether it was his incredible move set or his compelling engagement with other characters, Puma shone in all different facets of the season. A wrestler as talented as Puma has even greater things ahead of him as Lucha Underground moves into season 2.
6. Roman Reigns
Other than John Cena, has there been another polarizing figure in the WWE this past year? It would be difficult to find someone that has been both criticized and beloved in equal measure throughout the year. Whether it was his win at the Royal Rumble or battling for the WWE World Heavyweight championship against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns was faced with a great deal of adversity in and out of the ring. But he has managed to face that adversity and achieve, regardless of what stood in front of him.
Since being pinned by Seth Rollins in the main event of WrestleMania, Reigns had a near five month program with Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family, which was exactly what Reigns needed. While some may focus on his failures, his chances and opportunities indicate that he was seen in a high enough regard that his year was a success. He recently won the WWE World Heavyweight title tournament to capture the championship (although briefly). He is without a doubt the primary focus in the main event moving ahead.
5. Ethan Carter III
What can you say about arguably the top heel in TNA, and Dixie Carter’s “nephew”? He has worked incredibly hard to develop over the last couple of years. He has gone from being the bully that controlled Rockstar Spud to the emotionally pompous character that was supported by his bodyguard Tyrus. And Carter has certainly proven what he can do in the ring. Carter was also involved in some of the most enticing and creative angles during this past year: his hair versus hair match against Rockstar Spud, culminating their feud, and putting forth an injunction against Matt Hardy that got Hardy banned from competing for TNA for a month, AND had him stripped of the world title.
During Carter’s TNA World Title reign, he defeated arguably the greatest wrestler of this generation in former champion Kurt Angle. The win highlighted how far he has come, and the trajectory of his career. Carter is currently among the competitors that are a part of the TNA World Title series. Once can only anticipate more great things moving into 2016.
4. John Cena
Over the last ten years, it is a fact that Cena has been the face of the WWE. While many prefer a fresh face in the position of holding the WWE World Heavyweight title, and indeed Cena did not hold that title in 2015, he was used to elevate another championship. As the year unfolded, Cena contested against then-United States champion Rusev. After not being successful initially, he finally captured the title at WrestleMania. Cena’s win also meant that the title would be used not only on pay per views, but defended weekly as part of the “John Cena US Championship Open Challenge.” This weekly challenge resulted in great matches and big opportunities for his opponents.
In fact, it was during these open challenges that we saw Cena defend the title against the likes of Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens and Cesaro. From when he won the title at WrestleMania to when he lost the title at SummerSlam, Cena defended it against all comers. He also had arguably three Match of the Year candidates against the likes of Cesaro and Kevin Owens.
3. Kevin Owens
From the moment he first stepped into NXT in December of 2014, Owens has continued to move forward, with unceasing momentum. When he debuted at the NXT Takeover event he immediately turned on his best friend Sami Zayn, making a huge impact. That carried on into 2015, which saw him capture the NXT Title that he held until he lost it this past summer.
While still holding the NXT title, Owens also appeared on Raw and challenged John Cena. Owens defeated Cena clean in his first match, during the Elimination Chamber event, which is a very rare feat. Owens’ stellar year saw him transition full-time to the main roster and move into feuds with Cesaro and then Ryback. During his feud with Ryback, Owens defeated the Big Guy for the Intercontinental championship. Owens’ stock couldn’t be higher as he also competed in the semifinals of the WWE World Heavyweight title tournament.
2. Jay Lethal
And then there is “the greatest first generation wrestler ever.” Lethal’s successful year actually dates back to the previous year. His greatest accomplishment in 2015 was capturing the Ring of Honor World Championship, defeating Jay Briscoe in the process. What an accomplishment, as Lethal held both the ROH TV title and the ROH World Heavyweight title for nearly four months. Lethal actually held the Ring of Honor TV title for a record-setting 567 days until he lost it to Roderick Strong this past October. But one defeat does not make for an unsuccessful year, as he had successfully defended that title a staggering 36 times.
As we move into 2016, it will be interesting to see where Lethal’s push goes. Will he continue to defend the ROH World title successfully, or will he become the hungry challenger that stops at nothing in order to recapture the belt? As it stands now, Lethal is the most prominent heel in ROH, and has been convincing in that role since he was first aligned with Truth Martini in 2014; that association has only helped further Lethal’s role within the promotion.
1. Seth Rollins
As the “Future of the WWE,” Seth Rollins’ year was off the charts. He was unquestionably the best individual talent in the WWE this year. While some may argue the importance of other names, Rollins was able to parlay his Money in the Bank opportunity into a championship win on the biggest stage at WrestleMania. He had a triple threat match at the Royal Rumble against John Cena and Brock Lesnar, and looked great in the process. What stands out about Rollins’ year was the number of matches he had and how he came out looking in the process.
Throughout the year he defeated a number of stars who challenged him for the WWE World Heavyweight title. Some may think that his injury might make 2015 a disappointing year, but it doesn’t negate all the successful matches that he had. And at one point he held both the US and WWE World Heavyweight titles after defeating John Cena. Although an injury ended his 2015 campaign, it didn’t prevent him from having one of the most exceptional years of any wrestler in any major promotion this year.