Despite any complaints about booking, or any other issues people might have had this year, you could make a case that 2016 has been the best year in the history of professional wrestling. In WWE, you had a year of match quality that is unrivaled by any in the company's history. WWE brought in some of the best talent in the world to compete in a tournament that lived up to the outrageous hype around it. Meanwhile, other companies around the world became more accessible, both on regular TV and the internet, leading to mainstream wrestling fans becoming more familiar with wrestlers they've never heard of before.
Looking at WWE specifically, you had the influx of outside talent really putting their stamp on the main roster. AJ Styles came over and within months became one of the most prominent members of the roster. Kevin Owens finally reached the pinnacle of the company after a fantastic 2015. The Club arrived, and even the addition of Mauro Ranallo made a huge difference in the company. The brand split shook up the roster, and the influx of talent from NXT made WWE feel fresher than it has in years.
Going through 2016 and giving out awards is a tough task, but here are my awards. A quick note: Because WWE is the most familiar brand among readers, the winner will always be from WWE or NXT. However, if I was going overall, that will not always be the case. You can see selections from outside of WWE in the honorable mentions section.
Quite frankly, AJ Styles was the story of 2016, and there was a reason for it. He consistently put great matches and both his on-air and off-air arc was extremely compelling. He dominated the news cycle in January, when he made the jump, and his arc from February until now encompassed what many people can't do in a full WWE career. He was the total package in a year when a lot of unexpected names (Miz, Jericho, even Omega) really took their game to a whole new level. I think there are about six guys you could make a compelling case for at No. 2, but AJ Styles is a step above any of those six.
Honorable mentions: Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, The Miz, Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega, Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, Chris Hero
Female Wrestler of the Year: Charlotte
Say what you want about Charlotte. You can say that she has been pushed too hard. You can say that the fact that she's a four-time women's champ already is ridiculous. But you can't say that she hasn't been putting on great matches this year, and especially over the past few months become one of the better heels on the whole roster, male or female. Some of the other women, such as Kimber Lee and Sexy Star, deserve credit just for what they represented this year in winning top titles in fairly prominent companies. But Charlotte stands above them all.
If this included all wrestling organizations, this is a two-horse race between The Revival and The Young Bucks. If you vote for either, you aren't wrong. However, what The Revival did this year has been nothing short of amazing. They basically stole the show at every TakeOver, and just the idea that the old-school tag tactics can work brought a real freshness to the tag-team scene. And yes, The New Day might have been the most prominent team in the world, but to me, they're a distant third between these two.
Honorable mentions: The Young Bucks, The New Day, American Alpha
Match of the Year: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn (NXT TakeOver: Dallas)
This is the hardest it has been in years to pick a winner. Especially only counting WWE, I thought there was a single match that was clearly ahead of everything else for the past few years. This year though, there were at least four matches that you can credibly call Match of the Year. Zayn/Nakamura tops my list, though. Yes, it's partially because this was literally a dream match for me, one that I didn't think would ever happen, particularly under the WWE umbrella. I happened to be watching this match with someone who never had seen Nakamura before, and to watch his expression change from disinterest to being 100 percent in on Nakamura throughout the match was something that I've rarely seen from a wrestling match. It was a perfect way to introduce Nakamura to the crowd, Sami was the perfect opponent for him and they tore the house down.
Honorable mentions: Okada vs. Tanahashi from NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10, DIY vs. The Revival at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, Zayn vs. Owens from WWE Battleground, Zayn vs. Owens vs. Cesaro vs. The Miz from WWE Extreme Rules, Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi in the Cruiserweight Classic, The Young Bucks and Adam Cole vs. Will Ospreay, Matt Sydal and Ricochet from PWG Battle of Los Angeles, Kenny Omega vs. Naito from NJPW G1 Climax
Best In-Ring Moment: AJ Styles wins the WWE title
What moment better summed up 2016 as a whole? You have AJ Styles, a long time indy worker, coming to WWE under his old name. He slowly but surely shows what he's capable of, and even gets the higher-ups behind him. AJ Styles, the big fish in a small pond, the man who even the biggest indy fans sometimes questioned if he could handle it, holding the WWE title, was a completely surreal sight, and an awesome one.
Honorable mentions: Kevin Owens wins WWE Universal title, Shane McMahon goes off Hell in a Cell, Okada wins IWGP Heavyweight title, AJ Styles beats Cena cleanly at SummerSlam
Best Non-Match Moment: Shane McMahon returns to RAW
To me, it was between this and AJ Styles attacking Cena when Cena returned. Ignore for a minute everything that happened after that Monday night in February. Think of what you felt when Shane McMahon's music hit on RAW. Shock, happiness, even, dare I say it ... hope? There were so few moments in wrestling this year that made me, and many wrestling fans, feel anything like that this year. So, this moment resonated above any other.
Honorable mentions: AJ Styles destroys Cena upon Cena's return, Goldberg's return to WWE, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks attack AJ Styles and expel him from the Bullet Club, Anything with "Broken" Matt Hardy
Event of the Year: NXT TakeOver: Dallas
This was a really tough one to me. There were several that could have qualified. If I told you that a show with a Finn Balor/Samoa Joe match was going to be the fourth-best match on the show ... what would you say? That was the reality though. Zayn/Nakamura is a legit MOTY candidate. Revival/American Alpha and Bayley/Asuka were both phenomenal. Throw that into a smaller arena with a passionate but not obnoxious crowd ... yep, Event of the Year.
Honorable mentions: WWE Battleground, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10, Lucha Underground's Ultima Lucha Dos, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II