John Carbery, Brian Damage, Jamie Lithgow and Craig Wilson
It’s that time of the year again, it’s time for our end of the year awards, our version of the Slammys. Similar to previous years, it’ll be divided into two parts. This week we’ll put forward our nominations for the following awards:
- Best Newcomer
- Worst Turn
- Biggest Missed Opportunity
- Best Pay Per View
- Female superstar of the year
- Superstar most needing a change of fortune
- Most Likely to Succeed from NXT
So, without further ado.
John: AJ Styles. If we’re talking someone who has debuted in WWE for the first time in 2016 I don’t think anybody can compare to AJ Styles. The best wrestler in the world finally made his debut for the only major company he’s never worked for and despite a shaky start with a high-profile loss to Chris Jericho at WrestleMania he eventually found his place in the main event seemingly based on merit. At Payback, he made Roman Reigns look like a million dollars and then repeated the trick a few weeks later at Extreme Rules. While his first match against John Cena at Money in the Bank was a bit ropey their follow up at SummerSlam was a Match of the Year contender and few weeks later he picked up the WWE title from Dean Ambrose who was paling in comparison as champion to contender Styles. As champion, AJ has consistently delivered world-class performances and will be a hard act to follow. I only wish his Bullet Club pals had similar success.
Brian: While AJ Styles is no newcomer to pro wrestling his WWE debut and subsequent year within the company has been nothing less than spectacular. His great matches with Chris Jericho, to his clean victories over John Cena to his winning the WWE world title. AJ has had a tremendous impact in his first year with the company.
Jamie: AJ Styles. There is no other alternative. His debut at the Rumble was awesome, his matches have been awesome and his heel persona is also awesome. Even as a babyface he was awesome because he turned before his initial buzz wore off, and thus ensured that he did fall down the card. The only blot on his record in 2016 was his loss to Jericho at WrestleMania. I enjoyed the match, but I still cannot understand why Jericho went over.
Craig: AJ Styles, too. Fair to say there’s broad consensus with this one… What I’d seen of Styles pre-WWE had me marked out as a fan of him but I did have some lingering doubts over how he’d fare in the WWE – the Southern drawl being the big one. But he’s worked solidly and has brought that level of experience to the Smackdown Live roster, turning in top performance after top performance. A face turn is inevitable as the fans continue to support him regardless.
John: Seth Rollins. When Rollins returned from his knee injury he was met with a hero’s welcome by audiences but Vince McMahon’s ability to not hear his audience when it suits his own ideas kept Rollins heel. After a time as a forced heel Rollins was finally turned babyface but the magic just wasn’t there. They turned him months too late and killed his momentum as both a heel and a face. This was a real shame, firey babyface Rollins could’ve been something special in the lead up to SummerSlam.
Brian: Aaron Rex. The former Damien Sandow’s debut on TNA’s Impact show was made to be a big deal. It seemed he would be pushed as the promotion’s top babyface. He went on to become the company’s first ever grand champion. Then, a few weeks later…he turned heel by getting involved in a brawl between EC3 and Eli Drake? It was too subtle and made no real sense.
Jamie: Natalya. Natalya turned on Becky?! I never saw that coming…
Craig: Seth Rollins. As John alludes to, the time to turn Seth was when he returned from injury with bucket loads of sympathy on his side. For reasons known only to the WWE, that didn’t happen and the momentum was lost. It was a lacklustre babyface turn when it happened. Such a shame.
Biggest Missed Opportunity
John: Finn Balor’s injury. One can only guess how Finn Balor’s title run would’ve played out had he not suffered a serious shoulder injury in his match with Seth Rollins at SummerSlam. Maybe he would’ve been swamped by the awful booking that WWE likes to give first time Champions or maybe he would’ve shone as the brightest new star in years. Regardless he has the goods as an in ring wrestler and in the cosmetic department and I think he would’ve performed much better as a WWE headliner than his successor Kevin Owens who has underperformed in a role he’s not really suited for in my opinion.
Brian: Cesaro. If you want to talk about stars on the wrong show, look no further than Cesaro on Monday Night Raw. He should be challenging for the WWE title. He should be in the main event. He should be a SINGLES competitor. Yet the WWE sees him as a part of an “odd couple” tag team with Sheamus. In my view, a total waste of his talents. He should be on Smackdown Live or at the very least be a challenging for Raw’s Universal title.
Jamie: Seth Rollins as a babyface. I agree entirely with what John said, only I’m putting the mess WWE made of Seth Rollins’ return down as a missed opportunity rather than worst turn (which it very nearly was too). We often hear wrestlers and ex-wrestlers urging fans to allow storylines to develop before casting judgement. Well, here we are at the end of the year and it still makes no sense to have Rollins return as a hero only to swiftly turn heel before slowly turning babyface shortly thereafter. He was forced to vacate his title, he recovered from a serious injury, they made a documentary about his recovery, he’s a fantastic worker, a great talker, he’s really popular with fans but that’s not the kind of babyface WWE wants! Oh wait, maybe it is, damn too late…
Craig: Cesaro too. What does he have to do for the WWE to give him the push he’s earned? Sure, maybe it won’t work out long term but he deserves a chance rather than being saddled with the “odd team” pairing with Sheamus which will inevitably lead to another feud between the two.
Best Pay Per View
John: NXT Takeover Dallas. A great show from top to bottom that somehow didn’t suffer from the usual quality overkill that can hamper NXT shows. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing sometimes. This card started out strong with American Alpha picking up the NXT tag titles from The Revival in a good match marred by some sloppy botches. Austin Aries debuted in a serviceable match with Baron Corbin. Shinsuke Nakamura made a stunning debut in what could be the Match of the Year against Sami Zayn and left the jaws of mainstream wrestling fans on the floor. Asuka defeated Bayley to win the NXT Women’s Championship in a tidy encounter and Finn Balor retained his NXT Championship in a bloody brawl with Samoa Joe in the main event. This show ebbed and flowed with a perfect pace and delivered a perfect piece of wrestling entertainment.
Brian: NXT Takeover Dallas. Let’s see, an awesome tag title match between the Revival and American Alpha…a great match between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe….another great women’s match pitting Bayley against Asuke and perhaps the match of the year between Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura. All of that in a two hour show that is well worth a re-watch. It definitely outshone WrestleMania 32 the next day.
Jamie: NXT Takeover Dallas. This show was sublime. It was so good in fact that I can’t even remember what happened at WrestleMania. Seriously, other than Jericho beating AJ, I’m drawing a blank here. I doubt I’ll be forgetting Nakamura vs. Zayn in a hurry though.
Craig: NXT Takeover Dallas. One of my abiding memories of the show was watching it in a Berlin hotel on what was unquestionably one of the worst wifi signals I’ve ever had. But, between the signal dropping off, I was blown away by this show and watched it again when I got back home. Nakamura vs. Zayn was immense, what a debut for Asuka and a stunning tag team match pitting American Alpha vs. The Revival. And to think it wasn’t the best Revival tag match on a Takeover show…
Female Superstar of the Year
John: Becky Lynch. The Raw women’s division is a mess. They flip flop on who should be champion to the point where Sasha Banks has won the title three times on Raw and lost each time she’s defended on PPV. Sasha, Charlotte and Bayley are arguably the most talented female grapplers in North America but due to incompetent booking they’ve been left to flounder. They’ve had some sloppy matches too, to be fair, Sasha vs Charlotte at SummerSlam was a car wreck and a missed opportunity though they were redeemed, somewhat, by the triple threat match at Clash of Champions. Becky Lynch has actually fared much better in comparison for my money. She won the Smackdown title in a six-pack challenge match that didn’t exactly make the title look very prestigious but Lynch looked like an absolute star while winning it. She’s since done her best with the shallow pool of talent on the blue brand and while she may not have had as many high profile matches Becky has done a much better job with the tools she’s been given.
Brian: Charlotte Flair. I don’t think anybody in the WWE had a bigger year than Charlotte Flair had in 2016. Not only winning the WWE Women’s title 3 times…but cementing herself as one of the top heels in the company. Charlotte has put on some great matches with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. I see her future only getting brighter in 2017.
Jamie: Becky Lynch. Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha have all had good years, but I think Becky has advanced the most. Let’s be honest, she was very much a third wheel at Wrestlemania. A few months down the line and she is now the main attraction on Smackdown, which probably has the more interesting (if not talent packed) women’s division.
Craig: Asuke. I watch NXT more than any other WWE show so, based on that, this isn’t a surprise. Asuke is outstanding. She’s dominated the NXT women’s division and been the figurehead for it throughout the year. What more is to come for her in 2017? One can only wonder but looking back on our output over the last twelve months, it’s difficult not to be wowed.
Superstar most needing a change of fortune
John: Sami Zayn. Sami Zayn is on the wrong show. When he and Kevin Owens wrapped up their feud, which has stretched across numerous promotions and names Sami finished on top. Only to slide into lower mid card hell while the man he vanquished was awarded the traditional “first weak run” as champ. Sami should’ve been switched to Smackdown where he would make a perfect opponent for either heel champion, AJ Styles or The Miz, and been given a featured role instead of being wasted on Raw. Here’s hoping he along with Cesaro somehow manage to be traded to Tuesdays.
Brian: Apollo Crews. I don’t think anybody in 2016 debuted with more of a thud than Apollo Crews. In my personal opinion, he seemed rushed up to the main roster before properly developing a character for him. Crews isn’t the greatest on the mic, but his in ring skills are tremendous. He is in serious need of some sort of makeover to make him relevant.
Jamie: Finn Balor. For obvious reasons, his injury was just shit hard luck at the worst possible time. As an aside, if a talented wrestler is stagnating in the mid-card is that misfortune? The characters of Dolph Ziggler and Cesaro are, for me, boring so I don’t chalk up their ‘misfortune’ to bad luck.
Craig: Sami Zayn for me too. He is stuck on the wrong show and was hurt being fed to Braun Strowman. Still, from there the WWE managed to move him into a programme for the Intercontinental title which could also have moved him to Smackdown. Yet, inexplicably they opted to keep him where he was. He’s floundering on Raw and badly. He needs a move and that would have been the perfect
Most likely to succeed from NXT
John: Shinsuke Nakamura. While I’m sure there is a healthy scepticism on my projected success for the King of Strong Style based on WWE’s handling of Japanese talents in the past I’m hoping that their present environment would be one Nakamura can flourish in given the chance. Shinsuke is on that AJ Styles tier of in ring talent and try as they might the WWE eventually had to give him his place at the top of the card and I think the same will happen for Nakamura. Ultimately, I’d love to see him debut and pick up the WWE Intercontinental Championship and have a similar run as he had with the NJPW IC belt, where he becomes a main eventer with a secondary title and raises its profile along with his own. Either way I have a lot of faith in Nakamura and believe his incredible in ring talent and unmatched charisma will help him get over many of the unnecessary hurdles WWE likes to put in front of its main roster talents.
Brian: Bobby Roode. I have some scepticism about a TNA guy getting a real big push in a WWE ring, but with that said, I feel Bobby Roode can break that ceiling. Not only is he a great wrestler, he has tremendous charisma and has a super catchy theme song that will get over with main roster fans. Roode’s character is a combination of the Million Dollar Man, Mr. Perfect and Ric Flair. I see great success for Roode in the future.
Jamie: Asuka. Of all the ‘sure things’ currently in NXT – and there’s a few – Asuka is a can’t miss. Put the fact that she’s an immense wrestler with a strong character, look and entrance to one side for a moment; Asuka has never faced Charlotte. There’s your dream match for next year WWE…
Craig: A lot of pressure on this call from me, I’ve the casting vote in a 3-way tie… I’m torn between all three. All three would add something to whatever show they were called up for. However, I think Roode would be the best addition to either show. He instantly adds a guy that looks and feels main event to either Raw or Smackdown and that would be a huge boost for both. I’d be stunned if all three didn’t make their way up in 2017, along with several other viable contenders.
- Best Newcomer: AJ Styles
- Worst Turn: Seth Rollins
- Biggest Missed Opportunity: Cesaro
- Best Pay Per View: NXT Takeover Dallas
- Female superstar of the year: Becky Lynch
- Superstar most needing a change of fortune: Sami Zayn
- Most Likely to Succeed from NXT: Bobby Roode
You can read previous ‘Ring the Damn Bell’s Not the Slammys’ here.