2016 PW Awards

2016 PW Awards: Male Wrestler of the Year

Winner: AJ Styles

“Quite frankly, AJ Styles was the story of 2016, and there was a reason for it. He put on constant great matches and both his on-air and off-air arc was extremely compelling. He was the total package in a year where 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 #2, but AJ Styles is a step above any of those six.” – Aaron Oster

“I’ve had problems with AJ Styles in the past… his rhetoric on the indies was often homophobic and I feel very differently than most about the Styles Clash… but he’s been willing to pay his dues at WWE, even though he’s an international hot-shot. I saw nearly everyone on the roster say that he deserved the world title, which to me signals a growth from cool guy McIndie scene to responsible backstage mentor. He elevates any match he’s in while still being able to learn and take from the people he works with. He was a bright spot in a pretty meh year.” – Mira Waters

“Dreams do come true, even for smarky wrestling fans. It was just a year ago that it became clear AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura were leaving Japan, and that WWE was going to be the benefactor of that move. When Styles appeared to a thunderous ovation at the Royal Rumble, it was as though all of the wrestling planets had aligned. Whatever your feelings about him personally might be, it is absolutely undeniable that he is the new standard-bearer for WWE. Every opponent he faces comes away better for having wrestled him. If you run down the list of people who faced Styles in 2016, their best matches were with him. Even as a recovering Ambrose fan, I would be remiss to say that putting the WWE World Title on Styles wasn’t the absolute right thing to do. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if it stayed there – for a long, long time. No matter who’s standing across the ring from AJ Styles in 2017, they won’t be nearly as Phenomenal as him.” – Lady J

“There has not been a better one-year span in WWE history. Kurt Angle and a few others are comparable, but AJ’s 2016 can be put up against any of them.” – Matt Addie

“This is the case of someone who has for YEARS been seen as a guy that would thrive in the WWE, decided not to sign. He goes over to NJPW, completely revamps his character and skills, THEN decides to come to WWE and lights the damn place on fire. He pulls off 2 of the best matches I’ve ever seen out of Roman Reigns, then pulls 2 of the best matches I’ve ever seen out of John Cena, then pulls of a GREAT series with Dean Ambrose, wins the WWE Title, all while making me want to slap the smug look off his face. If he would have won at Wrestlemania, his entire year would have been the perfect debut year in WWE.” – Chris Langevin

“When it comes to consistently delivering great matches, AJ is like another HBK in the WWE.” – Jim LaMotta

“The best in the world. Amazing athlete, can work with anyone. I think he’s number one in the world, and it isn’t really that close.” – Dan Rose

2. Shinsuke Nakamura

“I gave him the MVP of his promotion because since the week after WrestleMania when the main roster completely depleted NXT, he was the one person that carried NXT. Which is also why I give him my nod as the #2 wrestler of the year. We all know that Japanese and Chinese wrestlers have the TOUGHEST times in the WWE. We know that if they can’t cut a promo, it’s going to be tough for them to get over. From the moment Shinsuke debuted with the video challenging Sami Zayn to a match at Takeover, he captivated the WWE/NXT audience. Not to mention, much earlier this year, he was lighting it up at Wrestle Kingdom against my #1 wrestler. There are not many people who have had a year like Shinsuke from a great program with Samoa Joe, to his MOTY candidates v. Styles and Zayn, it’s only a matter of time before he’s taking over the main roster.” – Chris Langevin

“This charismatic former New Japan superstar transitioned seamlessly to the America audience, and he has the skills to be as big of a star as the powers that be permit him to be. While it makes sense to allow him to carry the NXT brand for now, make no mistake, Nakamura is undoubtedly a Wrestlemania main event level talent. His matches with Samoa Joe provide an example of what he can bring to the main stage of WWE.” – Jim LaMotta

“I love The king of strong style. His entrances are beyond epic, and his work style is jaw dropping. He will be so special on the WWE roster.” – Dan Rose

3. Kevin Owens

“Kevin Owens will fight your dad on Twitter and he will deserve it.” – Mira Waters

“Listen, he’s simply put, talented. He has the ability to work with anyone, his in ring mic work is epic. His work overall is unbelievable. Kevin Owens is the complete package.” – Dan Rose

4. Kenny Omega

“Wow. What more could we say about Kenny Omega’s 2016. The void left by AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura during the first week of the calendar year was filled and then some by Omega and Naito. Omega put forth match of the year after match of the year performances ending the year as the G1 Climax winner and #1 contender for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. And he didn’t stop there. I have a feeling his first match of 2017 at a little show inside of the Tokyo Dome may end up appearing right at the top of every single year-end list in the business. Couldn’t be more excited to see what’s next for “The Cleaner” in 2017.” – Dave Reno

“Kenny started the year making an impact heard round the wrestling worldwide when he took over BULLET CLUB. With that momentum he proceeded to have an amazing year, co-starring with The Bucks in The Elite videos, winning G-1 and heading into the new year as part of the headliner for Wrestle Kingdom. Arguments can be made for who truly had the best year in wrestling, but Omega took this year to go from that cool guy who people enjoyed watching and could make a match with a little girl & a sex doll awesome to the guy who could be the top guy in any company anywhere in the world.” – Reid Harris Cooper

“When you have such high-profiled acts like AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows leave the Bullet Club, and they seem to get STRONGER… that’s huge. It’s all a testament to the year that Kenny Omega had. From the moment they turned on AJ Styles and established Kenny Omega as the new leader, to him capturing the G1 Climax championship, becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler (Canadian) to do so.” – Chris Langevin

5. Chris Jericho

“While not in the theoretical prime of his career, in 2016, Jericho is as good now, if not better than he has ever been. This 26-year pro went step for step with Seth Rollins, a young lion that could be the future of the company, which speaks volumes to his ability. Even more amazing is Jericho’s ability to adapt to the current product and remain fresh instead of a nostalgia act. Props to Chris Jericho, you just made the list!” – Jim LaMotta

“Chris Jericho will not go home and I am so glad. Sometimes alumni hangs around and it takes a spot from a deserving young guy or lends itself to repetitive not-stories and half-assed gimmicks. With Jericho that’s never the case. His improvisation and ability to change character from week to week very often saves the guys he’s paired with or up against from poor planning or lack of writing on creative’s part.” – Mira Waters

“I understand his in ring abilities are not what they once were. I watch wrestling to be entertained, and nobody is more entertaining on a regular basis than Y2J. Disagree? You just made the list, you stupid idiot!” – Dan Rose

6. Matt Hardy

“Matt Hardy made TNA relevant for the first time in my entire life with one of the most inventive gimmicks I’ve ever seen. He’s so committed to it that somehow it doesn’t land as a parody and it works in any promotion he visits.” – Mira Waters

“We’ve never seen anything close to Broken Matt Hardy, Brother Nero, Senor Benjamin and that weird world he’s created.” – Matt Addie

7. Cody Rhodes

“Cody Rhodes is a very lucky man. He was born into a perfect storm, destined to become something great. But even with The American Dream for a father, dashing good looks, and a natural deftness in the ring, it would be foolish to claim Cody’s success in WWE was simply the result of nepotism. If you love your work in the way that Rhodes clearly does, you will always strive for more, to grow and become better. How do you accomplish that when you’re already working for the biggest company in the industry and they’re not writing anything for you? You shock everyone and walk away. With his sights set on conquering some of the biggest names in independent wrestling, Cody traded his regular paycheck and some David Bowie-inspired make-up for challenging himself to think on his feet, and find his own destiny. Kicking off 2017 in Tokyo at Wrestle Kingdom 11, it seems clear that Bullet Club’s newest member is set on turning wrestling fan’s dreams for Rhodes on the indie scene into the American Nightmare. Bring it on, Cody. Bring it on.” – Lady J

“Cody Rhodes? I don’t remember that wrestler. OHHHH… do you mean Cody? Just Cody? *cue eye roll* First off, let me address WWE… Hey… Vince… just let him use the god damn Rhodes name. Don’t hold it against Cody because you guys refused to let him drop the Stardust gimmick. Ever since he left WWE, Cody has shown exactly why he wanted to drop the Stardust gimmick. It’s not him. He makes a GREAT heel when he is just himself, because he has the perfect punchable face. For the foreseeable future, I am VERY much looking forward to his work in ROH and with the Bullet Club, especially after his Final Battle contest with Lethal. He plays the role well, and add that to the Bullet Club’s reputation, and Cody is primed for one hell of a 2017.” – Chris Langevin

“A round of applause for Cody’s decision to leave WWE. He’s made good on his wrestling bucket list thus far, and his barnstorming tour should rage on in 2017.” – Matt Addie

“When the WWE overlooked him, Cody had the guts to ask for his release and is proving the writing team wrong, as he’s wrestling stellar matches in almost every major promotion.” – Jim LaMotta

8. Tetsuya Naito

The 2016 MVP of Japanese pro wrestling (and the first since 2011 not named Okada or Tanahashi) you could make an argument for Naito as the most important player for NJPW this past year. Naito forming the Japan version of the Los Ingobernables stable in late 2015 after a short stint in Mexico earlier in the year turned out to be the best move of his career. LIJ got over huge in 2016 as a villainous stable and Naito got over even bigger as their leader. His heel tactics, his total disregard for the IWGP heavyweight and Intercontinental championships during his runs, his incredible matches and his unparalleled swagger brought him to new heights in Japan over the past year. Tetsuya Naito may be the coolest wrestler in the world today.” – Dave Reno

9. Seth Rollins

“The #1 pick in the WWE Brand Split, Seth Rollins had quite the year. After having to miss Wrestlemania because of his knee injury, he came back to a raucous ovation when he planted Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules. From his quick title reign, to his match at Summerslam against Balor, to his eventual showdown with HHH, Seth Rollins continues to set the bar on the Raw brand.” – Chris Langevin

10. The Miz

“The Miz has been this company’s best heel low-key for years and I’m glad he slandered Daniel Bryan and brought back his hot devil wife and they’re Square Enix outfits to make it clear once and for all.” – Mira Waters

“I think his level of in ring ability is top-notch, and his ability to work the mic is great as well. One of the best heels in the business. I think The Miz could be the best sooner rather than later.” – Dan Rose

11. Jay Lethal
12. Chris Hero
13. Pentagon Dark
14. Adam Cole
15. Kazuchika Okada
16. Cedric Alexander
17. Kyle O’Reilly
18. Ricochet
19. Will Ospreay
20. Roman Reigns
21. Samoa Joe
22. Cesaro
23. Son of Havoc/Matt Cross
24. Matt Riddle
25. Sami Zayn
26. Johnny Gargano
27. Zack Sabre Jr.
28. Katsuyori Shibata
29. John Cena
30. Dean Ambrose

Next: Fight Booth PW 2016 Awards Recap

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