We’re into full end-of-the-year list mode on the internet, and for every ranking and award, there are people who disagree with the selection, order, winner or all of the above.
In a world where WWE is featured every week on ESPN, an outlet like Rolling Stone covering wrestling isn’t as noteworthy as it was when I first wrote about their “Best” list back in 2014, but it’s still high-profile, mainstream exposure for WWE and pro wrestling. Which is a big part of why, when Kenny Herzog’s 2016 edition was posted on the magazine’s website last week, a lot of wrestling fans sounded off about his choices.
Before I offer any thoughts, here’s Rolling Stone’s 10 Best WWE Wrestlers of 2016:
1. AJ Styles
2. Charlotte Flair
3. Chris Jericho
4. Sasha Banks
6. Kevin Owens
7. Heath Slater
9. Seth Rollins
10. Enzo Amore & Big Cass
One selection I’ve seen zero complaints about is the name at the top. SmackDown’s World champ is tied for the most televised wins in 2016 and currently running away with Cageside’s fan vote for best/favorite performers. Whether you’re a WWE-only sports entertainment fan or somebody who doesn’t think a match should get five stars if it was broadcast in English, Styles likely checks your boxes. That no one debates his place among the best workers in the world is icing on the cake.
From there, things get a lot more subjective. A couple complaints I’ve seen relate to things like the Intercontinental champion not ranking higher, or how Raw Superstars take up seven of the ten spots.
In both cases, there are a couple things at play. One is that the list covers all of 2016, and though we’re used to it already, the brand split didn’t happen until the year was more than half over. Someone like Miz was doing great things before the draft, but the transformation of SmackDown from a tape-delayed two hours of rematches to a live, unique, quality show created a lot of opportunities for the guys and gals of Team Blue over the last five months.
Another is that, outside of the internet bubble, Raw is still the (pun semi-intended) Big Dog brand. WWE tells us things like the Sasha vs. Charlotte program and Goldberg’s return & shocking win are a big deal, and so they are... especially for an audience like Rolling Stone’s or ESPN’s.
We may find the notion of Goldberg as a “best wrestler” to be a little ridiculous, but his Survivor Series win garnered more interest from the world at large than Miz’s feud with Dolph Ziggler... great as it was.
If I have any issue with the list, it’s Rollins charting rather than either of his brothers. Roman Reigns felt like a bigger presence throughout the year, and Dean Ambrose qualifies both as someone who exceeded expectations and provided crowd-pleasing moments. Seth’s 2016 almost feels like a let down after his previous two. But when healthy, he was a fixture of Monday night main events.
So his inclusion is probably a pretty good representation of what’s being valued as most important here.
Be sure to head over to Herzog’s article and read his detailed explanations for all the choices. Then let us know, what do you think of Rolling Stone’s top ten?