2015 will not be remembered as a banner year for World Wrestling Entertainment. Injuries impacted several noteworthy members of the WWE roster, and that problem continued over to the start of 2016. Television ratings for Raw dipped so low during the year that the story was picked up by outlets that, more often than not, ignore the WWE and professional wrestling, in general, outside of the WrestleMania season. Plenty of fans showed, by tuning out for at least some time, that they were no longer enamored with the product that the WWE was producing outside of the occasional solid pay-per-view or NXT Takeover show.
All of that negativity does not, however, erase the fact that the WWE could be, to steal a word from The Miz, awesome in 2016. Multiple talented members of the NXT roster should receive opportunities to shine on the main WWE roster. There is little reason to believe that NXT, which was the best part of the WWE in 2015, is going to suffer a serious fall-off over the next 12 months. The top portions of WWE cards should experience several shifts due to mainstays being injured. As bad as things may have gotten for the WWE last year, even a jaded fan can have hope that 2016 will be better for the company.
20. John Cena Injury
The criticisms that are still voiced about John Cena in 2016 – mainly that he “can’t wrestle” – are beyond absurd at this point of his legendary career. While Cena had a hand in several of the best WWE matches of 2015, his going down to a shoulder injury should theoretically open things up in main event slots for others on the roster who have not yet received such a chance. The WWE will be better off when a healthy Cena is back and ready to go. Cena being forced to take additional time away from the company will make things even more special when he does make what will likely be an emphatic return.
19. Seth Rollins Injury
Yes, even the biggest fan of Seth Rollins would have to admit that his WWE World Heavyweight Championship run was one of the weakest that the company has produced in some time. Added to that is the bad luck that hit Rollins in November 2015 when he suffered a serious knee injury that will keep him sidelined past WrestleMania. While it obviously would have been better for all involved if Rollins would have never hurt his knee, his time away and his subsequent return should make for a tremendous babyface push for a character that was in need of a reset before the end of 2015.
18. Chad Gable and Jason Jordan
Any diehard WWE fans who do not watch NXT – and why such people still exist these days is astounding – are missing out on the joy that is viewing Chad Gable and Jason Jordan work matches. What is most promising about Gable and Jordan is that they are not just an entertaining team that work well together. Both, on their own, have what is needed to emerge as stars over time. Neither man is a finished product, so don’t expect to see either one have his hand raised at WrestleMania in 2016. Watching Gable and Jordan improve and continue to have stellar matches will be awesome for those who watch NXT every week.
17. Royal Rumble 2016
OK, we would be the first to admit that battle royals and even the Royal Rumble can be boring for the majority of a particular match. The 2016 edition of the contest will not be your standard battle, though, as the Royal Rumble this time around will decide the WWE World Heavyweight Champion who should theoretically defend that title at WrestleMania. What is widely viewed was the greatest Royal Rumble of all time was also for the WWE Championship, and it was “Nature Boy” Ric Flair who, with a tear in his eye, famously won the match and the title. Will 2016’s Royal Rumble be able to match or even better that classic?
16. Sting in HOF
It would be understandable if those who watched Sting make his name in World Championship Wrestling would be upset about how the WWE has used the icon of the ring over the past couple of years. All of that will go away if only for an hour or so when Sting receives the honor that he deserves: Induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Sting will have an open microphone and a platform to thank the fans and possibly to even say goodbye as an active performer. Even if no other big name is part of the class, Sting alone will be worth the price of admission for wrestling fans who grew up watching him.
15. Samoa Joe
Any worries that one might have had about Samoa Joe not being fully motivated as a member of the NXT roster were quickly put to bed for good in 2015. Joe proved to be a perfect replacement for Kevin Owens after Owens was called up to the main roster, as the former Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling star made the transition from babyface to heel in order to feud with Finn Balor over the NXT title. There are numerous different programs that could feature Joe throughout the 2016 calendar year regardless of if he is working on NXT or the main roster. Either way, Joe is a great get for the company.
It has been a long time – a long time – since the WWE had a babyface like Bayley, a wrestler who is beloved by the majority of the audience and one who also happens to be one of the better performers in her division. Would Bayley flop if called up to the main roster today? The immediate answer to that is: Who cares? Bayley is currently serving as the NXT Women’s Champion, and she was one of the big stars for the brand in 2015 and also was part of a pair of “Match of the Year” candidates. Have fun watching her in NXT, and worry about Bayley’s future when the time to do so arrives.
13. Vince McMahon
We are in the group of wrestling fans who have had more than our fill of the heel authority faction running shows such as Raw. It would be a lie, though, to say that recent segments that have included WWE Chairman Vince McMahon have not been humorous and fun. McMahon is such a great over-the-top pro wrestling personality that he is going to enjoyable to watch, even if he is playing a character of a crazed old man who has lost touch with the product. Those of you who would say that you don’t want to see Vince in 2016 should realize that there will come a day when he is no longer around.
12. SmackDown on USA Network
“SmackDown is a completely missable show. Nothing important ever happens on it.” These are perceptions of that the WWE is going to have to go out of the way to kill off in 2016 now that the program is on USA Network. Several noteworthy things happened on editions of SmackDown in January of 2016. There have already been multiple championship contests, a title change, and a tables match. Not all of these may be received positively by fans at first, most notably the title change, but all indicate that the WWE is, as of the first month of the year, invested in improving SmackDown.
11. WWE Network
The WWE Network continues to be an evolving product, one that added content as recently as the fall of 2015 and one that should be improved upon even more in 2016. Those weekly NXT shows and the Takeover events that occur four times a year are worth the $9.99 for the WWE Network on their own. Smoky Mountain Wrestling and Mid-South Wrestling are being rolled out to the Network’s Vault. There is still way too much content missing for those who want the Network to watch shows from years ago, but fans who gave up on the service should consider giving it another chance; if you can get a free month, that is.
10. Tag Team Wrestling
The WWE has admittedly done well to improve the company’s tag team division as of late. New Day, of course, rocks. The Usos, Prime Time Players and Lucha Dragons all make for fun matches. There are some great teams in NXT, most notably the previously mentioned duo of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan. Fans have proven time and time again over the years that they will respect and care about tag team wrestling so long as matches and the division’s championships actually mean something in WWE storylines. 2016 will hopefully be an even better year for tag team wrestling in the WWE.
9. Sami Zayn
One of the ultimate bummers to happen in the WWE in 2015 was Sami Zayn suffering a freak shoulder injury just seconds before he was set to make his official Raw debut in the ring against, of all people, John Cena. Zayn is healthy and back, and he should be made the top face of NXT up until he is ready to be called up to the main roster. Those who may make a claim that Zayn is already a stale NXT performer need to remember that he could have several fresh matches awaiting him on that brand. The hope, of course, will be that Zayn gets called up to the main roster at some point in 2016.
Asuka was arguably the best overall performer, all aspects of the job considered, in the WWE for 2015. What is most amazing about that is that she was not with the company for even half of the year, and yet she looked like a true superstar from her first moment in NXT. Asuka has already shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she can carry lesser NXT/WWE performers to good and even great matches. She could be what is needed to save the dumpster fire that has been the “Diva’s Revolution,” even though there are probably some WWE fans out there who want her to remain in NXT for as long as possible.
7. Dean Ambrose
While Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns were thrust into WWE World Heavyweight Championship angles, Dean Ambrose was left behind to eventually feud over midcard championships. Do not, however, just assume that Ambrose was forgotten about or “buried.” Ambrose is consistently one of the more entertaining parts of a show such as Raw or SmackDown, and he is over among fans. Ambrose could, in 2016, continue his feud with Kevin Owens before transitioning to a program involving Reigns, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe or some other talent.
6. Roman Reigns
Say whatever you will about the skills possessed and/or not had by Roman Reigns. 2016 should be an absolutely fascinating year as it pertains to what the “Big Dog” does. Reigns is beginning January as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and also as the top babyface being pushed to at the top of cards with John Cena out nursing an injury. Will Reigns be accepted by the types of crowds that attend the Royal Rumble and events that take place over WrestleMania weekend? Will the WWE turn Reigns heel at some point in 2016? You have to stay tuned to find out, and that is part of the fun.
5. WWE Raiding NJPW
One could not be blamed for not being overly optimistic about the WWE properly using the likes of A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and Shinsuke Nakamura assuming that those rumors that the company has signed those wrestlers are accurate. Instead of focusing of what might not be, WWE fans should instead concentrate on what it means that the company would go out of the way to “raid” New Japan Pro Wrestling. Those running the WWE knew that the roster needed a shakeup, and at least one of those (alleged) signings should be involved in some fun matches in 2016.
4. A.J. Styles
Of all of the wrestlers who may be linking up with the WWE in 2016, it is A.J. Styles who could be the one who makes an immediate impact. Styles undeniably has the goods inside of the ring and on the microphone to show up at a show such as the Royal Rumble rather than work his way through NXT. Just think that we could, before 2016 wraps up, see Styles wrestle against the likes of Seth Rollins, John Cena, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and other talented workers underneath the WWE umbrella. Here is hoping that Styles’ back holds up for an entire year of WWE work.
3. Kevin Owens
2015 was the year when Kevin Owens was pushed as a monster heel and champion of NXT before Owens was called up to the main roster and made to look like a performer equal to John Cena. That’s not too shabby of an introduction for any character. Owens has continued to put together great matches even if he has fallen down into the midcard level, but big things could be in his near future depending on what the WWE plans to do with the healthy wrestlers on the roster. The company could realistically put Owens in a feud with Brock Lesnar, or the WWE could have Owens feud over the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
2. Brock Lesnar
How any supposed wrestling fan could not be filled with excitement upon hearing the opening of Brock Lesnar‘s theme and knowing the destruction that is about to occur is beyond us. The start of the new year and of WrestleMania season means that “The Beast” will be back on television and at events such as the Royal Rumble. It is at that pay-per-view where we should learn who will serve as Lesnar’s next major opponent. Lesnar could either end up defending or competing for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, or he could enter a non-title program with a wrestler such as Kevin Owens. Either way, it will probably be awesome because Lesnar is the top draw the WWE has today.
1. Finn Balor
Of all of the people that this version of NXT has featured, Finn Balor may prove himself to be the biggest solo star to ever emerge from the developmental brand. Balor is a fantastic worker, and the “Demon” character that he has used is one that will sell merchandise to fans of different ages. Then, there is the notion that the WWE could push a “Balor Club” angle featuring Balor and other former members of the Bullet Club. Even if Balor is written to be on his own while working underneath the WWE umbrella, he should nevertheless continue to make for entertaining segments throughout 2016.