Moments of 2016 is a series of articles that detail the year in review for WWE, whether it be specific moments, matches or superstars who've stood out on the WWE main roster and NXT, one way or another. You'll see this series of pieces go through to the end of December. In a special sub-series, here is the first of four articles focusing on The Four Horsewomen of WWE.
Just a year and some change earlier, it was inconceivable that there'd be a women's match at WrestleMania that would not only show tides the change of women's wrestling in the company in the space of a year, but would arguably also be the show's best match of the night.
I say that because if you go back to WrestleMania 31 in Santa Clara a year earlier, there was a women's match on the card, but with little-to-no build and no title on the line. It was a tag match between AJ Lee/Paige and Nikki/Brie Bella in the middle of the card that was given decent enough time, though it's worth noting this came in the aftermath of the whole 30 second divas match between the Bellas and Emma/Paige on Raw that started #GiveDivasAChance.
The night after on Raw, however, didn't help at all with a crowd turning on the competitors in the ring with misogynistic and sexist chants being aimed at a good portion of those who were competing in the match and their respective spouses also within the WWE (or in the case of Lee, in her final match with the company, the spouse who was formerly within the WWE).
That night was not a proud moment for women's wrestling fandom, with the onus being on that contingent of male fans that night on Raw. And as someone who had started discovering a certain group of women a month earlier with an amazing Fatal 4 Way at NXT TakeOver: Rival, I definitely felt disappointment for the movement that was starting to grow and shame for my gender for being so shitty as human beings, let alone as wrestling fans.
But after that night, there was stuff happening which suggested a revolution was coming. Steph McMahon was preaching of one coming, but she wasn't the one in the trenches. Rather, it was Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley. The collective known as the Four Horsewomen had set women's wrestling on fire down in NXT and put on amazing matches time after time.
But if there was ever a time where they made a stand, it was through four consecutive NXT TakeOvers from Rival to Respect, with the two in the middle in Unstoppable and Brooklyn being the catalysts. Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch was easily in the running for the best women's match in WWE after Unstoppable and was the night Lynch won over the NXT fanbase.
It was after that night that Banks, Charlotte and Lynch all got their respective call ups to the WWE main roster. And while the movement stalled a bit afterwards with the three of them paired off in groups and various other wonky moments, the night they were called up and were given a great reception showed not all hope was lost for main roster women's wrestling.
And from that night on, through the good times and bad, it showed there was promise. It showed there was an audience. And for all the talk of marketing and spiel and handfisted stuff with the involvement of Stephanie McMahon, a revolution may not have been so much on the horizon as much as it already arrived.
And through all the teething and bad stuff, it did give us incredible moments which also set up what was to come. The Charlotte-Becky Lynch feud leading into the Royal Rumble was a fantastic way to kick off 2016 and, speaking for myself, the excitement I had going into the match was big. It's just a shame that, even if it turned out to still be good, the match's talking point will always be when Ric Flair planted a kiss on Becky Lynch. Yeah. That really took me out of it.
But it's what would happen after which would set the wheels in motion towards Wrestlemania.
Sasha was back after being off TV for a period of time. And the pop she got that night in Orlando was huge. The chants over the weeks of 'We want Sasha' was growing exponentially and it exploded when she come out after the championship match at the Rumble, showing her old ways by kicking Lynch out of the ring, but then going after the champ. The statement was clear: Sasha was gunning for the title.
In the interim, Charlotte faced Brie Bella, who weeks earlier saw her husband Daniel Bryan retire and saw her sister Nikki go through possibly career ending surgery, for the title at Fastlane. Meanwhile, Banks and Lynch teamed up to take on what remained of Team BAD in Naomi and Tamina, whom turned on The Boss after her return.
After Fastlane, however, it was on. It was Mania season. It'd be between Banks and Lynch to see who'd become number one contender for Charlotte's Divas Championship in Dallas. The first match on Raw? Double pin. The second on SmackDown? DQ thanks to a Charlotte beatdown. So who'd face the champ in Dallas? Both.
Which brings us full circle to WrestleMania 32. One year from being effectively an afterthought and after one of the lowest moments in the women's division the night after, here we were. As well as a six-women tag match on the pre-show, we had a championship match that was not only front and centre in the promotional materials, it was a marquee match for the show alongside the likes of Lesnar-Ambrose, Taker-Shane O'Mac and Triple H-Reigns.
It showed that, for all the teething the division had gone through in the year between 31 and 32, there had been significant progress made in the women's division of WWE in the space of a year. This had an exclamation mark added when the Divas Championship was retired at the show and replaced with the WWE Women's Championship and that all female roster competitors would be referred to no longer as Divas, but as superstars.
The match itself lived up to the billing. The women were given big billing entrances with a promo package and all. It showed a statement of intent. It was now up to Charlotte, Banks and Lynch to deliver the goods. They did. It was arguably match of the night and is certainly in the discussion for top five womens matches of the year in the WWE at least. Even with Charlotte retaining thanks to her father, which took people out of it a bit (though not as dramatically as at the Royal Rumble), the match had high momentum, some insane spots (Sasha's frog splash or Charlotte's moonsult to the outside) and a great chemistry between the trio of them.
Compared to a year earlier, if there was any doubt, the women had well and truly arrived that night at WrestleMania. The Horsewomen did it, albeit only three-quarters of it that night.
As for what would happen the next night on Raw? There was no repeat of the scenes from California in 2015. Rather, the crowd was making clear there was a certain someone conspicuous in her absence who they really wanted to see, just a few days after losing her NXT Women's Championship to Asuka at NXT TakeOver: the final quarter of the Horsewomen, even if it was to no avail (skip to 6:21).
Lets be clear here, the women's division stalled after this until just before the brand split, but there is no question about it: WrestleMania was a quantified success for the women's division.
And in some ways, wrestling in 2016 will be defined by the Four Horsewomen. All of them.
Johnny Cullen writes about games for a living and has written for the likes of Eurogamer, VG247 and Official PlayStation Magazine UK and also podcasts about games for My Favourite Game. You can follow him on Twitter - for mostly games hijinks but also WWE tweets (and be a bit obsessive over Bayley), The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Jonsi & Alex) - @JohnnyCullen.