Welcome to the 2016 WWE Johnny Awards. These are the awards where we honor the hard working employees of World Wrestling Entertainment based on their work over the last twelve months. I come to you today to present the very “prestigious” awards that I call the EIGHTH WWE Johnny Awards! This is World Wrestling Entertainment stuff ONLY. It says it in the title, but I want you to remember that when you ask why there's no New Japan, TNA or ROH in here. It's WWE only!
These awards are based on my own personal choice. There were no polls or write-in votes. My name is on the awards, so I get to pick the winners. I don't expect anybody reading this to agree with every single thing I write below, but I will do my best to justify all of my choices. The awards are based on performance. It doesn't necessarily matter if a person wins all their matches on television and titles really aren't that important. It's about the performance more than anything.
Regarding NXT, it is included in every award as well. The NXT brand is awesome and I’m not going to ignore it. The same goes for things like the Cruiserweight Classic and 205 Live even though there’s less content there. Anything that is WWE is considered for these awards.
Also, a shoutout to James Ellsworth. You don't win an award this year, but you are an inspiration to all chinless dudes around the world. Congrats to you for living the dream.
Another thing to remember is I try to have fun when I write about wrestling. I don’t take it too seriously and I don’t take myself too seriously.
This column is over 8,000 words, so without further Apu, let’s get to it.
THE 21 MAJOR JOHNNY AWARDS
There were originally 20 major awards, but I changed it to 21 because I love NXT Takeover events so much. You’ll see what I mean later. Each one will have a description of what the award is, the previous winners of the award (if the award existed in the last seven year), the winner of the award, the runners-up for the award, and then my extended thoughts on the award. There are some "worst" awards too because some bad things deserve to be remembered too. I'll also include photos, videos and links to relevant content, so be on the lookout for that throughout the column. Let's get to it.
1. BEST WRESTLER
To be given to the person that best combines workrate, character, microphone work and everything else into one. This is similar to WWE's Superstar of the Year award. Past winners – 2015: Seth Rollins, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010: Randy Orton, 2009: Chris Jericho
Winner: AJ Styles (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Charlotte, Chris Jericho)
This was a battle for second place because AJ Styles is the runaway winner in this category. Pretty good for a WWE “rookie” huh? There are a lot of things to look at when coming up with criteria for best wrestler. They need to have great matches, memorable moments, feuds that we’re going to remember and a level of consistency that allows them to stand out.
AJ Styles had great matches with the likes of John Cena, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Chris Jericho and many others. When I looked at my star ratings for the year, his matches are consistently at the top in terms of matches on PPV, Raw and Smackdown. The fact that he went on to win the WWE Championship impressed me a lot as well. I didn’t expect it to happen, but I’m glad that it did. I was really impressed by his promos too. He showed a lot of confidence as a heel. He seemed comfortable in that role too. The fact that Styles won Wrestler of the Year in his first WWE at age 39 makes me wish he was in the company ten years earlier, but I look forward to what he can do next year and in the following years. The reality is we may only get a few years of his work due to his age. Enjoy it while it lasts.
I listed a number of names as runners up:
- Owens and Ambrose are the next two that came to mind because they were consistently good all year.
- Nakamura and Joe helped carry the NXT brand the whole year with Joe in title feuds for the entire year, first with Finn Balor and later Nakamura.
- Charlotte was the brightest star in the women’s division that reminded us of how good women’s wrestling can be if they are given a fair chance.
- Jericho deserves some praise for reviving his career and performing at a high level even at 46 years of age. There are others too, but those are the ones I wanted to acknowledge.
The only reason that the winner of the two previous years, Seth Rollins, isn’t a runner up is because he missed almost half the year with a knee injury. He’ll likely be a top contender next year.
2. BEST FEUD
To be given to the best rivalry between two or more performers. Past winners – 2015: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, 2014: Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority, 2013: CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman/Brock Lesnar, 2012: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, 2011: Randy Orton vs. Christian, 2010: The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan, 2009: CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy
Winner: AJ Styles vs. John Cena (Runners-Up: Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz, Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks, The Revival vs. Gargano/Ciampa, Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe)
The Styles vs. Cena feud was the only rivalry this year that was booked perfectly from start to finish and wasn’t overbooked. By that I mean it didn’t take that long to reach a conclusion in their rivalry. It went just as long as it should have.
Styles vs. Cena started with their first ever in-ring showdown on the May 30 edition of Raw. Styles was still a face at that point, but then he turned heel by attacking Cena with his buddies in The Club, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson. That led to an awesome match at the Money in the Bank event in June. That was followed up with a six man tag match in July with Cena pinning Styles and then they had a classic, all-time great match at SummerSlam. Styles won both of their singles matches. Two months later at No Mercy, Styles beat Cena and Dean Ambrose in a three way. The rivalry is likely going to continue in 2017, which is fine me because it was great in 2016. I hope it’s even better next year.
Miz vs. Ziggler isn’t a new feud by any means, but it was great in the second half of the year. They had several matches against eachother while battling over the IC Title. Their best match was at October’s No Mercy event when Ziggler won a match with his career on the line. Some people thought he might lose, but he pulled through. I thought the story should have ended there. Miz ended up winning it back, they had another good match at TLC, but I think by that time they had overstayed their welcome so to speak.
If Charlotte vs. Sasha was two or three matches we might be talking about it as an all-time great feud. However, that rivalry was hurt because they had too many matches together. Not only that, but six title changes in five months is far too much.
The last two rivalries mentioned there are from NXT. Both were drawn out over several months because NXT does that well. The matches always delivered too.
3. BEST MATCH
To be given to the best match. Past winners – 2015: Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena @ Royal Rumble, 2014: The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield @ Elimination Chamber, 2013: Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk @ SummerSlam, 2012: The Undertaker vs. Triple H (Shawn Michaels as ref) @ WrestleMania 28, 2011: CM Punk vs. John Cena @ Money in the Bank, 2010 winner: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 26, 2009 winner: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 25
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn @ NXT Takeover Dallas (Runners-Up: AJ Styles vs. John Cena @ SummerSlam, Gargano & Ciampa vs. The Revival (Dawson & Wilder) @ NXT Takeover Toronto, Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens @ Battleground, Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander @ CWC)
It’s a three horse race here between Nakamura vs. Zayn, Styles vs. Cena and #DIY vs. The Revival. I watched all three of them back to back to back before I wrote this and I’m going with Nakamura vs. Zayn as the match of the year.
Nakamura vs. Zayn was a match with incredible hype because WWE fans waited three months for the first Nakamura match after he signed. He was put in a match against Zayn, who was known as a great worker, but we had no idea what the match would be like. When it happened during WrestleMania weekend in Dallas they drew some incredible reactions from the crowd, there were so many strikes from both guys, there were believable nearfalls throughout and when it was over I can remember remarking to my buddy that it was so amazing I wanted to watch it again right away. That was a special match and one I will never forget.
I loved Styles vs. Cena at SummerSlam and #DIY vs. Revival in Toronto, which I attended live, but I couldn’t put them ahead of Nakamura vs. Zayn. All three matches were five star matches to me even though I rated Styles/Cena at ****3/4 out of five in my live review. Opinions can change, my friends.
This was one of the best years ever in WWE in terms of match quality. I complain about how the writing could be better because WWE creative is pretty lazy a lot of the time, but the matches have been damn good all year.
4. BEST PAY-PER-VIEW
To be given to the best pay-per-view. Past winners – 2015: WrestleMania 31, 2014: WrestleMania 30, 2013: SummerSlam 2012: Extreme Rules, 2011: Money in the Bank, 2010: WrestleMania 26, 2009: Summerslam
Winner: Money in the Bank (Runners-Up: Battleground, TLC)
There wasn’t a standout PPV this year, but I enjoyed Money in the Bank the most. It was carried by three matches that were given over 20 minutes including Styles vs. Cena I, Dean Ambrose winning Money in the Bank and also Seth Rollins beating Roman Reigns for the WWE Title. The night ended with Ambrose cashing in the MITB briefcase on Rollins to leave with the gold, which meant that all three Shield guys held the WWE Title in the same night. Most of the undercard matches were pretty good too.
Battleground and TLC had the same 8/10 score that I gave Money in the Bank, but in looking back at all three shows I feel like I should have bumped MITB up a bit while the other two should stay where they were.
4b. BEST NXT TAKEOVER SPECIAL
To be given to the best NXT Takeover special. Past winners – 2015: NXT Takeover Brooklyn
Winner: NXT Takeover Dallas (Runners-Up: NXT Takeover Toronto, NXT Takeover Brooklyn)
I started this award last year because NXT Takeover specials are amazing. It’s a really tough call because I was at the NXT Takeover Toronto event and I enjoyed being there so much. However, that NXT Takeover Dallas event just seemed to be more special with one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard and some incredible matches all night long led by the previously mentioned Nakamura vs. Zayn match. NXT Takeover Brooklyn was damn good too.
If I compared these three to the WWE main roster PPV shows, these three would all rank higher than the main roster shows. NXT Takeover shows are a lot easier to book because it’s usually just five matches over 2.5 hours and there are usually not any major angles that take place.
5. BEST FEMALE PERFORMER
To be given to the best female performer. Past winners – 2015: Sasha Banks, 2014: Paige, 2013: AJ Lee, 2012: Eve, 2011: Beth Phoenix, 2010: Natalya, 2009: Mickie James
Winner: Charlotte Flair (Runners-Up: Sasha Banks, Asuka, Becky Lynch)
Let me start by saying that it’s nice that WWE was finally able to get rid of the term “diva” after saying it repeatedly for over 15 years. I like how after they dropped the word, women like Trish Stratus, Lita and others talked about how much they hated it. Hey WWE, maybe next time you force talent to regurgitate your dialogue you should ask them what they really think about it. I guess people live in fear in WWE because if you say you don’t like something to a boss it could cost you a push or worse, your job.
Charlotte was the top female performer in WWE this year. She definitely had the most high profile matches all year long, she’s undefeated in PPV singles matches and also had by far the most opportunities on the microphone. The quality of those matches were very good too. Her promos improved a lot along the way as well. It was a strong year for Charlotte and I don’t see her push going away any time soon. She's the cornerstone of the division and there's no doubt about that.
Sasha Banks had a great year as well. There was that period after WrestleMania leading into the July brand split where she wasn’t used much, which was a shame. After that, she had several high profile matches with Charlotte with most of them being above average. I’m not sure if being a face is the best thing for her since she was better in NXT as a heel, so perhaps a heel turn may happen in 2017.
Asuka is great in NXT and the booking helps. When you are booked like an unbeatable wrestler there’s a lot of aura about you. The matches are great, though. Some might say she’s the best worker in WWE among the women.
It was a good year for Becky Lynch. I'm glad she finally tasted some gold.
I didn’t list Bayley as a runner up because she has been lost in the shuffle on Raw for the second half of the year. Now that she is feuding with Charlotte, perhaps she will have a stronger 2017 on the main roster.
Charlotte is the “queen” for now, but the competition among the talented women in WWE right now is pretty fierce. I’m excited to see what they can do in 2017.
6. BEST TALKER
To be given to the best person at delivering promos. Past winners – 2015: Paul Heyman, 2014: Paul Heyman, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010 winner: CM Punk, 2009 winner: Chris Jericho
Winner: Chris Jericho (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens, Paul Heyman, Dean Ambrose, The Miz)
The three-year run of Paul Heyman is over and it’s nothing against him. I think he’s great, but he’s also not on television every single week the way Chris Jericho is, so I must factor that into my decision.
The fact that Jericho can create new things to add to his list of catchphrases at this point in his career is amazing. From “drink it in, man” to the “List of Jericho” and even getting the word “it” over by saying somebody is going to get…it is hilarious to me. Then there’s the line that always gets a pop when somebody annoys him and he busts it out: “You just made the list!” It’s silly and stupid, but that’s pro wrestling. We like stupid once in a while. Jericho is an all-time great talker. He proved it again this year.
As for the runners up, Owens is right there with Jericho as being one of the most entertaining talkers because he’s a mix of serious promos as well as comedy.
Paul Heyman is still the best at hyping up a big match. It’s just a shame we don’t get to see him more often.
Ambrose is consistently entertaining although some of the comedy stuff hurts him more than it helps. I’ve been writing about his heel turn for a while. If he does turn heel, he could probably win this award because heels get to talk more than faces do.
7. WORST FEUD
To be given to the worst rivalry between two or more performers. Formerly known as the Katie Vick award. RIP Katie. Past winners – 2015: Dolph Ziggler/Lana vs. Rusev/Summer Rae, 2014: Brie Bella vs. Nikki Bella, 2013: Big Show vs. Triple H/Randy Orton, 2012: Kane vs. Zack Ryder/John Cena, 2011: Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler & Jim Ross, 2010 winner: Kane vs. Edge, 2009 winner: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
Winner: Darren Young vs. Titus O’Neil (Runners-Up: New Day vs. League of Nations, Rusev/Lana vs. Enzo/Cass)
What a disaster Young vs. O’Neil was. We got months of promos from Darren Young with his life coach Bob Backlund. I thought it was fine because Young’s a good worker that just needed a gimmick. For whatever reason, WWE felt the need to go back to this feud that failed miserably in the past as well. Their matches sucked, O’Neil delivered one of the worst in-ring promos I’ve ever seen as he messed up some lines in front of a dead crowd and there was no clear resolution to the rivalry. They were just taken off TV as if nothing happened.
Hey WWE, you know what role was the best for Young and O’Neil? As a tag team known as the Prime Time Players! This is a problem with WWE creative. They break teams up too soon and the performers are hurt by it since there’s no follow up.
Remember the League of Nations? Solid wrestlers, but it didn’t work. The feud with New Day was pretty bad. They did the feud as a way to turn New Day face going into WrestleMania. Their match at WrestleMania was forgettable. It was so bad that after it was over, the League of Nations ended.
The current feud that’s happening on Raw with Rusev battling Enzo/Cass is terrible as well. It hasn’t reached its conclusion or else it may have been a challenge to winner.
8. WORST PAY-PER-VIEW
To be given to the worst PPV. They wanted us to pay money for this? Past winners – 2015: Royal Rumble, 2014: Tables, Ladders & Chairs (And Stairs), 2013: Battleground, 2012: Hell in a Cell, 2011: Over The Limit
Winner: Fastlane (Runner-Up: WrestleMania 32)
There wasn’t a completely terrible PPV this year. Fastlane got my lowest score at 6/10, but even that show had a good main event with Reigns vs. Ambrose vs. Lesnar although it was obvious Reigns was going to win. Owens vs. Ziggler was good at that show as well. It was just uneventful in terms of storyline. Fastlane is in a tough spot since it’s between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. Major angles don’t take place there, so it is often times a forgettable show.
The problem with WrestleMania was that it was too damn long and not enough exciting things happened. The biggest pops were for things like Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and The Rock making cameo appearances. When the main event features a guy like Roman Reigns, who is booed by 90% of the 100,000 people there and you book him like a face then maybe you should question what you are doing. It doesn’t need to be six hours long. If it is that long, at least give us some better matches to enjoy.
9. WORST MATCH
To be given to the worst match. Past winners – 2015: Royal Rumble Match, 2014: Batista vs. Alberto Del Rio @ Elimination Chamber, 2013: Santino vs. Heath Slater @ Smackdown Sept 27, 2012: John Cena vs. Michael Cole @ Raw June 4, 2011: Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler @ WrestleMania 27, 2010: Kaitlyn vs. Maxine from NXT3, 2009: Divas battle royal @ WrestleMania 25
Winner: Golden Truth vs. Breezango @ Money in the Bank Kickoff (Runners-up: R-Truth vs. Curtis Axel @ Fastlane)
This is a tough category to pick because I tend to forget about the bad matches. However, I was going through my star ratings for PPV matches and remembered Golden Truth vs. Breezango. The storyline was that Golden Truth basically locked the Breezango guys in their tanning beds, so when they had the match, Tyler Breeze and Fandango had “burns” on their bodies. They did over the top selling to try to sell the idea that they were legitimately burned. It was awful. I don’t blame the performers. It’s the fault of WWE’s creative team that books stupid stuff like this that isn’t even funny.
R-Truth strikes again after a three minute loss to Curtis Axel at Fastlane. Why was this put on PPV? No idea. Basically, Goldust cost R-Truth the match because he wanted to be partners with him and Axel won with the dreaded ROLLUP OF DEATH~!
There are other things I remember in matches like Dana Brooke not putting her feet on the rope during a heel cover as being pretty bad too. It’s tough to remember everything in terms of the bad moments, though. I prefer to focus on the better matches.
10. BEST TAG TEAM
To be given to the two men that function best as a tag team. Past winners – 2015: The New Day, 2014: The Usos, 2013: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns, 2012: Team Hell No (Kane & Daniel Bryan), 2011: Air Boom (Evan Bourne & Kofi Kingston), 2010: The Hart Dynasty, 2009: Chris Jericho and The Big Show
Winners: The New Day – Big E, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods (Runners-Up: The Revival – Dawson & Wilder, #DIY – Gargano & Ciampa, American Alpha – Jordan & Gable)
This was a tough one. Do I go with the dominant run of New Day or give the award to the two awesome teams that were arguably the biggest highlights of NXT this year? I know some may disagree with the choice, but I’m rolling with New Day here. Believe me if I had to give it a percentage I’d say 40% New Day, 30% Revival and 30% #DIY for first place. I love American Alpha, but I think they are fourth.
What hurts the NXT guys in this instance is the number of matches we get to see from them. Yes, they have the great Takeover matches that are better than most WWE PPV matches, but other than that there are maybe ten televised Revival matches on NXT broadcasts in the year. With New Day, they had matches nearly every week and for the first half of the year were on both Raw & Smackdown as well. I enjoy the New Day act a lot even though there were some definite mistakes this year such as the “Old Day” bad comedy segment, but that’s not on them. Again, blame WWE creative for that one. I’m not putting New Day here because they were scripted to have the longest title reign in WWE tag team history. They are here because of the quality matches they had on a consistent basis, memorable promos and making this gimmick work so well for two years. They deserve a lot of credit for that.
I love watching The Revival and #DIY have matches against eachother. As great as it is, let’s see them work with some other teams as well. That’s one of the things about NXT being a smaller show and having less teams around. You get the same matches a lot. Assuming both teams are on the main roster next year, I hope they are used in the correct way instead of losing a lot simply because they are shorter wrestlers.
American Alpha are the kind of team that should be together for another 3-4 years while making a mark on the main roster as the best team in the business. Both Jordan and Gable are under 30 years old, so they each have plenty of time for singles runs. Don’t rush it, WWE. Let them “carry the ball” going forward and they can be one of the best teams in WWE history.
11. THE "NEXT BIG THING" AWARD
To be given to the wrestler that is most likely to be the "next big thing" in the new year. Past winners – 2015: Sami Zayn, 2014: Bray Wyatt, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Dolph Ziggler, 2011: Cody Rhodes, 2010: Alberto Del Rio, 2009: John Morrison
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura (Runner-Up: Baron Corbin, Braun Strowman, Big Cass)
My basic “rule” for this award is to go with somebody that I have never picked before (sorry Sami and Bray) and that has never been a WWE, World or Universal Champion.
I realize I’m not picking a young guy in going with Nakamura, but he has no matches on the main roster, so I feel like he qualifies for the award. He’s a guy that can make a huge impact when he gets there, which needs to be by WrestleMania at the latest. I think Nakamura is a guy that should be main eventing PPV events almost as soon as he is on the main roster. He’s in his mid-30s, clearly has a connection with the crowd and puts on amazing matches. English isn’t his first language, but his English is good enough. The most important thing is he has that star power and aura about him that some other guys lack.
The three runners up are all taller wrestlers that are obviously guys that WWE likes a lot. Corbin has really impressed me with some of his matches in the last month. He works well with the smaller wrestlers that can sell his power moves the right way. Braun Strowman has yet to have a match that I would call entertaining, but he’s going to get that monster push because Vince McMahon loves giants. I think Big Cass might break free from his partner Enzo Amore in the second half of 2017 and it wouldn’t shock me if he’s a major factor as a singles wrestler.
Others to keep an eye on: Samoa Joe, Bayley and Apollo Crews if creative ever comes up with a storyline for him.
12. BEST HEEL
To be given to the performer that is the best at drawing the ire of the audience. Past winners 2015: Seth Rollins, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: Daniel Bryan, 2011: Christian. Award began in 2011.
Winner: AJ Styles (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens, The Miz, Charlotte, Chris Jericho, The Revival)
One of the hardest things to do in WWE these days is be a true heel that most of the fans hate. When looking at those first five names, only Miz and Charlotte truly get booed by most fans while the other three guys get cheers because they are amazing performers or they tend to make jokes.
Styles is my winner because he had the most significant turn of the year when he BEAT UP JOHN CENA (had to go all caps there) during their first face to face meeting. Styles went on to have outstanding feuds with Cena and Ambrose with poor James Ellsworth mixed in as well. He exudes confidence, he brags about how good he is, he rips on the crowd for cheering him and he hit a low blow right before hitting his finisher when he won the WWE Title. That’s a true heel to me. I doubt Styles is still a heel by this point next year, but I hope he’s still in a main event position.
Owens has been a heel since he started in WWE nearly three years ago. It’s the role that suits him best although I think with his personality he could do well as a face one day. Wait a few years, though. Chris Jericho’s right there with him as an entertaining heel that also gets cheered a lot. I’ve always liked Jericho more as a heel.
The Miz and Charlotte are pure heels. They don’t suck up to the crowd. They don’t want cheers. There needs to be more characters like them. Kudos to them both for reminding us how good you can be as a pure heel.
I also added The Revival, who did a tremendous job of reminding us what it’s like to see a heel tag team dominate for much of the year.
13. BEST BABYFACE
To be given to the performer that is the best at receiving the adulation of the audience. Past winners – 2015: John Cena, 2014: Dolph Ziggler, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: John Cena, 2011: Randy Orton. Award began in 2011.
Winner: Dean Ambrose (Runners-Up: The New Day, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sasha Banks, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins)
Dean Ambrose wins for being a likable guy that fought against bigger opponents like Brock Lesnar, had a huge moment winning his first WWE Title on the same night he won Money in the Bank and having an entertaining feud with AJ Styles to end the year. He’s not a traditional face that panders to the crowd while shilling merchandise, but he has a good following and is one of the most durable guys in WWE.
The runners up like New Day, Shinsuke Nakamura and Sasha Banks all have a lot of love from the fans. New Day panders to the crowd the most. Nakamura won over the fans just by being such a badass in the ring. Banks is better as a heel, but has a cool factor about her and her size makes people want to root for her as an underdog as well.
Sami Zayn is the best pure face on the roster. It’s just a shame that creative didn’t have things for him to do for the entire year. Most of the first half of the year saw him feuding with Kevin Owens a lot, which is great. Then the brand split happened and he had nothing to do until the last month. If he’s used right he can win this award.
In terms of matches, Rollins is a great face. I think his in-ring style suits him better as a face. They just need to work on the character because he could be so much more entertaining if they tweaked some things.
Sorry Roman Reigns. I know you’re booked as a face and your matches aren’t as bad as your haters think, but it’s hard for me to consider you one of the best faces.
14. BIGGEST NEWS STORY
The stories of the year that we'll always remember when looking back at the year that was. Past winners – 2015: Injuries decimate the roster, 2014: CM Punk leaving WWE, 2013: The WWE Network Still Isn't Here, 2012: Jerry Lawler's heart attack, 2011: The death of Randy Savage, 2010: The departure of several big names (Shawn Michaels), 2009: Shane McMahon leaves WWE
Winner: WWE signs four top New Japan stars (Runners-Up: Daniel Bryan retires, Shane McMahon returns, Bill Goldberg returns, Raw/Smackdown brand split returns)
This is a tough choice once again. I could have picked something sad like Daniel Bryan retiring or the returns of Shane McMahon and Goldberg after long absences, but I went with news that happened in the first week of January. When it was reported online that WWE signed AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and the tag team of Luke Gallows (a former WWE guy) & Karl Anderson it shocked a lot of people.
As we end 2016, Styles is the WWE Champion, Nakamura is the NXT Champion and Gallows & Anderson probably should have been Tag Team Champions if not for New Day breaking the longest title reign record. They are key cogs in the WWE machine that weren’t there a year ago, so when I look back at the year that was it’s their arrival that really stands out the most to me.
Daniel Bryan’s retirement was sad. I think a lot of people thought it was possible in 2015 since he was off for so long, but when it became official it was still surprising. He is missed tremendously especially with a loaded roster that would have given a lot of fresh matchups in the main event scene.
The returns of Shane McMahon and Goldberg both surprised me. Of the two, Goldberg coming back was something I didn’t anticipate since he was very critical of WWE over the last 12 years since he left the company. I’m glad he is back, but I certainly didn’t expect it.
As for Shane, his announced departure in 2009 won this award seven years ago. I think most of us thought he would return since his last name is McMahon after all. We just didn’t know when.
The last thing I want to mention is the brand split returning after they dumped it about five years ago. It has certainly made Smackdown more relevant, but I think Raw is hurting due to a lack of fresh matchups and an inability to make it an entertaining three hour show.
15. BEST INDIVIDUAL PROMO
To be given to the one promo that was the best in the last year. It can feature more than one person. Past winners – 2015: The Rock at WrestleMania 31, 2014: Daniel Bryan "Occupy Raw" face to face with Triple H @ Raw March 10, 2013: Mark Henry @ Raw June 17, 2012: Kane's Speech at Anger Management @ Raw August 27
Winner: The Miz and Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack
It’s rare to give this award to two guys that had an argument that wasn’t on Raw, Smackdown, a PPV event or NXT. However, when I think back on the year it’s that Miz promo with Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack that really stuck in my head as the best of the year. It felt so much like a shoot with Bryan starting it off by saying Miz wrestled like a coward, which led to Miz mocking Bryan for not being able to wrestle anymore and Miz also talking about how much he does for WWE. I wrote an entire blog about it the next day because it got the wrestling world talking while making Talking Smack “must see TV” just one month after it started.
I say it all the time – the best angles in wrestling are the ones that feel the most real. We don’t want cartoonish crap or unrealistic characters wearing costumes. Give us one guy ripping on another guy in a personal way and we’ll buy in every time. Great job by Miz and Bryan here.
I’m not going to list runners up just because this column is so long already. I like just picking one promo for this award.
18. BEST TURN
To be given to the best babyface or heel turn that benefitted the performer the most. Past winners – 2015: The New Day, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Randy Orton, 2012: Big Show, 2011: Mark Henry, 2010: Kane, 2009: CM Punk
Winner: AJ Styles (Runners-Up: Chris Jericho)
Are you sick of me praising AJ Styles in this column? Sorry. He deserves it. It was a huge moment when John Cena was in the ring with AJ Styles for the first time on Raw on May 30th. Fans reacted to it in a big way. It looked like they were going to fight off Gallows & Anderson, but it instead Styles decked Cena with a punch. Styles turned feud, had that incredible feud with Cena and went on to become the WWE Champion later in the year. If Styles did that to anybody but Cena it would have been big, but not as big as what happened there. That’s the value of Cena that nobody else has.
Chris Jericho is one of the best heels in wrestling history. When he was a face teaming with AJ Styles it was okay, but I kept waiting for the turn. They even released “Y2AJ” shirts about a week before Jericho turned heel on Styles, which set up their WrestleMania match that Styles lost for some reason. It was the right time for the turn while Jericho has reminded us that he really is one of the best heels that there is.
There were not enough significant turns this year. That’s a big problem with WWE’s creative team. They have forgotten how to do major angles that will get people talking and generate a lot of interest. Get better, WWE. For us.
17. THE "KTFO" AWARD
To be given to the person or thing that deserves to be KNOCKED THE F**K OUT~! Past winners – 2015: The WWE Creative Team, 2014: The Bunny & Adam Rose, 2013: The Great Khali, 2012: Teddy Long, 2011: Michael Cole, 2010: The anonymous GM angle, 2009: Michael Cole
Winner: Vince McMahon’s lock box storyline with Shane McMahon
The return of Shane McMahon this year was great, but the storyline that they used for his return was awful. You had Shane out there talking about how terrible WWE is, how bad Raw is with Stephanie and Triple H in charge and how he wants to run Raw. Shane said that Vince messed up big time in some financial deal, so Shane saved him and Shane cut a deal with Vince. There was something in a "lock box" that they never really talked about in great detail.
Vince agreed to the deal saying that Shane has one match on one night that Vince gets to choose. Vince made a point of telling Shane that he had to win the match because if he didn't then Shane would not be in charge. Shane agreed to the deal meaning that Shane was not going to be in charge of Raw.
On the night after WrestleMania, Vince said that there was no more lockbox since Undertaker beat Shane. Vince ended up putting Shane in charge of the show on Raw that night even though they mentioned many times that if Shane lost then he would have no power. It led to Shane running Raw more often in the next month.
The storyline was representative of WWE's biggest problems from a creative standpoint. They come up with decent ideas, they don't follow up on them well enough and they end up having a lot of logic holes in them to the point that sometimes their shows are tough to watch. What was in this made up lockbox? We'll never know.
18. MOST IMPROVED PERFORMER
To be given to the performer that has shown the most improvement in the last year. Past winners – 2015: Bayley, 2014: Damien Mizdow, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Ryback, 2011: Zack Ryder, 2010: Cody Rhodes, 2009: Kofi Kingston
Winner: The Miz (Runners-Up: Charlotte)
It’s weird to pick a ten-year veteran for this award, but when I think about where Miz was last year (boring in the midcard) to his current spot as a very entertaining IC Champion then I think he deserves the award more than anybody. Bringing his wife Maryse back to television was a great move because she cheated a lot to help him win matches. They play off eachother so well too. It wouldn’t shock me if he wins the WWE Title or Universal Title in 2017 because he has earned the right to be a main eventer again.
Charlotte has come a long way in the last couple of years. Two years ago she was just a raw athlete. Last year she had a lot of presence about her, but still seemed lost a bit. This year she became a total package. I think WWE recognized it since they had her kick her father Ric Flair to curb and allowed her to talk a lot more. In ring she proved she can have matches as good as the men. She may keep improving too.
I could list a lot of others, but those are the two performers that I think of the most when it comes to most improved.
19. BEST VIDEO PACKAGE
To be given to the best video package that highlights a feud, performer or other event. Past winners – 2015: Brock Lesnar/Undertaker for SummerSlam 2014: Daniel Bryan @ WrestleMania 30 "Monster", 2013: CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar @ SummerSlam, 2012: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena @ Extreme Rules, 2011: The "Macho Man" Randy Savage tribute video, 2010 winner: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Winner: Daniel Bryan tribute (Runner-Up: Sasha and Charlotte reach the “End of the Line”)
Daniel Bryan’s retirement was one of the saddest things that happened this year. He had unfinished business, yet he had to call it a career in his mid-30s because of several serious concussions that he had to deal with in his career. This video did an excellent job of summarizing his connection with the fans…or the WWE Universe as WWE might call them. It’s the video I’ll remember most about this year in WWE.
While I think the Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks feud went on too long to make it the Feud of the Year, I really liked the video package that aired prior to Roadblock a few weeks ago. It summed up their rivalry well, both women commented on their journey to that match and it made me care more about their Ironman Match that took place the following Sunday.
20. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
To be given to the most memorable moment of the year. Past winners – 2015: Seth Rollins becomes WWE Champion at WrestleMania 31, 2014: The Undertaker's undefeated streak ends at WrestleMania 30 when he loses to Brock Lesnar, 2013: Daniel Bryan wins WWE Title leading to heel Triple H/Orton, 2012: Brock Lesnar's Return April 2 on Raw, 2011: CM Punk's Promo June 27 on Raw, 2010 winner: Bret & Shawn embrace in the ring, 2009 winner: The Undertaker/Michaels match
Winner: AJ Styles debuts at Royal Rumble (Runners-up: Shane McMahon returns on Raw in Detroit, Goldberg returns on Raw, Dean Ambrose cashes in Money in the Bank on Rollins, Shane McMahon’s elbow drop off Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania)
This is tough because it came down to AJ’s debut or Shane’s return for me. Since the Royal Rumble is arguably the most popular match in WWE every year, I’m going with the Styles debut because it was something a lot of us never thought we would see. Roman Reigns was alone in the ring, this new song hit, the word “Phenomenal” appeared on the screen and the crowd went wild when they saw him. It was a special moment.
The Shane McMahon return on the February 22 edition of Raw was a huge surprise. He left WWE in late 2009, was not mentioned for all of these years and then his music hit just as his sister Stephanie was about to deliver a speech. She had a stunned look on her face. The crowd in Detroit went crazy for him. It was great to see him back in WWE. It led to his WrestleMania match against The Undertaker, which produced another memorable moment thanks to a crazy elbow drop off the Hell in a Cell structure.
I’m going to write another column about memorable moments for TheComeback.com in the next day or two, so bookmark my archives there and be sure to read it for more thoughts on all of these moments as well as plenty more.
THE MINOR AWARDS
These are other awards/random thoughts that I basically made up off the top of my head without going into full details. There are 10 of them. I could do more, but this is a long enough column as it is.
Best WWE TV Show – Smackdown Live
I think NXT has dominated this category for a few years, but I’m going with Smackdown this year. While I still enjoy NXT a lot, they have cut back significantly on putting on memorable matches on that show. Most weeks we get five or six matches, often times they are brief and not that interesting. Smackdown has been the better show since the brand split thanks to more interesting storylines, promos that feel more real and the match quality is there as well.
Best Crowd – NXT Takeover Toronto
Am I biased because I was there? Sure. I had so much fun at that show. The “ten” chants we did all night long as a tribute to Tye Dillinger was hilarious. The response to everything that happened was so strong.
Biggest off screen news story – After 17 years, Smackdown becomes a live show
There are a lot of things I could pick, but Smackdown going live tops the list for me. The show started in 1999. It was on Thursdays, then Fridays and back to Thursdays. Ratings weren’t great, so USA Network basically told WWE to move it to Tuesdays, which led to the brand split coming back. It’s a significant change that made Smackdown a more important television show.
Best non-wrestler - Paul Heyman
He wins this award every year pretty much. I just wish he was on television more and worked with other talents that could benefit from having him as an advocate. Maryse would be my runner up since she didn’t wrestle this year and her presence has helped The Miz a lot.
Best finishing move – Styles Clash
I’ve seen AJ Styles use the Styles Clash for about 15 years, yet when I saw him do it in WWE I marked out like a little kid because it was surreal finally seeing him use that move in a WWE ring. Sorry Michelle McCool, but it’s his move, not yours. The good thing is no serious injuries from it in WWE although some guys got hurt by it in other companies before he was in WWE. Don’t tuck your head! Take the bump on your face and you’ll be just fine.
Best announcer - Corey Graves
Tough call between Graves and Mauro Ranallo. I think the fact that Graves is working on Raw, NXT and 205 Live shows how much WWE loves his work. My only gripe with him is that I wish he was even more of a heel. Ranallo actually calls moves as a play by play guy, which is refreshing. I enjoy his work a lot. Also, a shoutout to Daniel Bryan, who did an awesome job working on the Cruiserweight Classic with Ranallo although it was just a 10 week show without any storylines.
Best WWE Network Show – Edge & Christian Show
I’m a huge fan of the Edge & Christian Show. Their style of humor is goofy and it appeals to me because I’m only a few years younger than them. They get a lot of freedom to do different kinds of things that you won’t see on typical WWE shows, which makes them stand out. Signs are pointing to a second season although no confirmed date on that yet.
Best theme song – Bobby Roode
Another tough category! I think Roode’s “Glorious” song is the best because it’s so over the top and just fits his character as a cocky heel, yet the crowd still loves him because it’s such a cool tune. The others that came to mind include Shinsuke Nakamura’s violin song with no lyrics and the AJ Styles song that has a DMX vibe to it. All three of those songs debuted this year, so credit to CFO$ for coming up with some awesome tracks.
(This category replaced Best DVD/Blu-Ray because those things don’t matter as much anymore.)
Most poorly used performer – Sami Zayn
This is tough because there are so many people that I could pick. I’m going with Sami Zayn just because he had so much momentum after Battleground by beating Kevin Owens. How did WWE follow up? By doing nothing with him for months. He put over Chris Jericho at one point and finally got a storyline in the last month. Push him better next year please.
The runner up for this is Apollo Crews, who has been a non-factor on Smackdown despite being good in the ring. They probably should have left him in NXT if they weren’t going to use him.
The JTG "That Person Still Works in WWE?" Award – Eva Marie
Eva Marie signed her WWE contract in early 2013. She has been there nearly four years, has done very little and is probably the worst draft pick from the brand split. I liked her heel act this year when she was there, but it was so brief that most people forget it. She’s been busy getting suspended and having roles in movies because I don’t think WWE misses her too much in the ring. The fact that she’s been a WWE employee for nearly four years is the biggest shock of them all.
Rosa Mendes is still a WWE employee as well. She’s been there for over ten years. At least in her case she had a baby, so she’s been away. I’m not sure if she’ll ever be brought back.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WWE IN 2016
Since I always like to rate the shows out of 10, how about a rating for the year? Here's how I rated the last seven years.
I’m going with a 6.5 out of 10 because I think WWE has a loaded roster full of unique talents that are capable of putting on incredible shows on a consistent basis…if the writing was better. That’s a big “if” because the lack of creativity is why the company has been pretty average for a few years now.
The current roster is good enough that every PPV, every Takeover and most television shows should be great on a consistent basis. However, if they are booked in nonsensical storylines or the same matches get repeated month after month then it’s hard for us fans to get that excited about the shows.
They need to get away from things like having champions lose non-title, stop using the ROLLUP OF DEATH~! as a finisher nearly every week and try changing the format so that shows begin with matches instead of a 15 minute promo.
My best advice for WWE from a creative standpoint is to make Raw feel more like Smackdown. I know it’s harder to do because Raw is three hours long, so there’s more content to fill. That doesn’t mean Raw has to be as boring as it usually is. Focus on the in-ring action more, try to cut back on the bad comedy segments and book your champions stronger. That’s the best way to get going in the right direction.
I feel like WWE is on the brink of something big. They just need better stories because if they can make their programs more interesting, I have faith in their talent delivering more greatness in 2017 and beyond.
I say this part every year: This is my favorite column to write every year. If you're one of those people that reads a lot of my work without writing this is one of those times where I'm asking for your thoughts because I want to know what you thought. Don't be shy. I reply to all emails. You can also contact me on Twitter or Facebook - the links to those are at the bottom of the post.
Thank you to my good friend Steve Melo for the banner you saw at the top of this post. He also does the banners for every one of my columns including the always fun "preferred" Raw Deal banners, PPV banners and more.
If you want to read past editions of the WWE Johnny Awards, click here and re-live the last seven years that way.
I wish you all a safe and happy New Year in 2017. I'll keep writing and I hope you'll keep reading.
As I said, please don't hesitate to contact me. My contact info is below. Thanks so much for reading!
John Canton - [email protected]