Ranking the Top 15 WWE Feuds of 2016
We’re now a few weeks into a brand new year in professional wrestling and, as is the nature of most fans of this industry, we are equally concerned with what we have to look forward to in 2017 and what wrestling terrors will be unleashed upon us. That’s the nature of the sport; there is so much material in WWE alone that there is simply no possible way for any one fan to be pleased with everything that happens in the ring over the course of any given week, let alone an entire year.
Lucky for us, it’s an exciting time to be a wrestling fan. So much has changed over the last year, and most of it has been for the better. Vince McMahon seems to finally be open to the prospect of making future Superstars out of the most talented guys on the independent scene instead of exclusively building his talent pool from homegrown big men who can’t land a dropkick to save their lives. The brand extension has apparently breathed new life into the writing teams and given many underused stars more time to shine, the tag team division is booming, and for the first time in history, WWE has begun to acknowledge women as valuable athletes.
So, what got us here? A hell of a lot happened in 2016 and the cynical wrestling crowd loves to talk about what is going wrong with the WWE product. That’s fair enough, considering Vince McMahon has never pretended to be trying to present a wrestling product, instead referring to his line of work as “sports entertainment.” But let’s take a different tack with this one and look back at some of the positive things that happened in WWE by ranking the best feuds in the company in 2016.
- Roman Reigns vs Triple H
To kick off the list of 2016’s greatest WWE feuds, one must look to the Royal Rumble which, as usual, kicked off the WWE World Heavyweight Championship rivalry for WrestleMania. This one, however, is more obligatory for the list than anything else. At this point, WWE still just didn’t understand the fans and what they wanted to see. The crowds were rapidly rejecting Roman Reigns at every turn and the company’s solution was to take the title from him and put it on a guy they grew tired of years ago, Triple H.
But that’s not to say nothing good came of this feud. Triple H and Roman Reigns are both skilled workers, to say the least, and while their WrestleMania championship match left a lot to be desired it did what WWE has been trying to do for years in solidifying Reigns’ spot in the main event picture, for better or worse. Though he may never be universally cheered in the likeness of his former Shield brethren Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, it would seem Roman Reigns started becoming accepted in some form or fashion as the main event player following this program.
- Samoa Joe vs Finn Balor
Samoa Joe was yet another longtime wrestling veteran who fans thought they would never see compete in a WWE ring. Like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe had become an independent wrestling icon long before WWE finally snatched him up and assigned him to the NXT brand in order to ensure the developmental territory’s lasting success. One of Joe’s defining rivalries since joining NXT has been against the incredibly popular and successful Finn Balor.
Balor was known in Japan under the ring name Prince Devitt and was, himself, an international sensation before coming to WWE. Both men are two of the most respected NXT Champions in history and that is in no small part due to their amazing feud throughout 2016 over the title. The rivalry between these two megastars spanned several memorable matches and culminated in the brand’s first ever steel cage match for the NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: The End.
- Becky Lynch vs Alexa Bliss
At the beginning of 2016, no one thought WWE would go from having one Championship for lackluster “Divas” division to having two respected Women’s Championships, but it happened. When the brand extension was adopted midway through the year a new SmackDown Women’s title was established and the company never looked back. It was the dawn of a new era in women’s wrestling, but WWE really needed to get this right in order to get the message across that they were actually listening to their fans.
That’s why the rivalry between Becky Lynch, the inaugural title holder, and Alexa Bliss, her first challenger, was so important. There weren’t many expectations going into the feud, especially with Alexa being a virtual unknown to anyone who hadn’t followed NXT to that point. Alexa showed a remarkable talent for playing her character with some of the best acting skills in the company, and she eventually snatched the title for herself in an exciting Tables match at the TLC event.
- Sheamus vs Cesaro
If the rivalry over the Raw Tag Team Championship between the New Day and the team of Sheamus and Cesaro was one of the best of the year, then the precursor to all of that must be recognized because Sheamus and Cesaro would never have come together as a team without first beating the hell out of one another. The two have been longstanding rivals and have incredible chemistry, so when Raw General Manager Mick Foley booked them in a “Best of Seven” series fans knew they were in for a string of great matches.
When the brand extension came the opportunity to slow down the storytelling in WWE and there are few better examples of how this can be beneficial than with these two Superstars. Now working together to dominate the Raw tag team division, this is a storyline that has essentially been in the works for over half a year and the ball is still rolling.
- Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt
You would be excused for thinking it would be impossible for Randy Orton to have a fresh and compelling rivalry at this point in his career after he has done everything imaginable more than once over the past decade and a half. Alas, that is not the case, as upon his return following a lengthy hiatus he was thrust almost immediately into a feud with the “Eater of Worlds” Bray Wyatt, and it was nothing like any of us expected, although it may not have started out that way.
After a series of matches, Randy Orton shocked the world when he joined the Wyatt Family, and the story goes on from there. Orton and Wyatt even won the SmackDown Tag Team Championship together, becoming another example of the rejuvenated tag team scene. This unique storyline has captivated the SmackDown audience, but perhaps the best thing to come of us is that it has given new life to Bray Wyatt, whose career has been in the toilet following years of undeserved losses.