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Just Art – The Highs and Lows of Another Year in the Ring with WWE: The MVPs
By Samuel 'Plan
Dec 28, 2016 - 8:59:33 PM
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Just Art – The Highs and Lows of Another Year in the Ring with WWE: The MVPs
From the Author
As 2016 draws to a close, like many other a-wrestling columnist, yours truly is going to indulge in a little awards season of my own, albeit through my individual performance art school of thought. In the coming days and weeks, I will be taking a look at my matches of the year in five separate categories – Main Event, Mid Card, Tag Team, Television and Network – and the short lists were announced on my Facebook just this week. So too do I intend to revisit some of the hot discussion topics of the year and assess WWE’s successes and failures in each instance, so that we might get a good grasp on the state of the company heading into 2017. But today, we start with something much simpler: MVP of the Year.
From the Top Rope takes over Just Art this time around as I look at those most deserving of being named the top act in WWE of the last 12 months. I take all sorts into account, but at the top of the list of my criteria come in-ring quality and outstanding achievement – either individually or for the company. And unlike in other areas, I am a firm believer that tag teams should be thrown into the same mix as singles competitors, and women too of course; no unnecessary labelling here.
So in a year of successful revolutions and failed revivals, career renaissances and unexpected rises, let’s take a look at who I believe deserves to be named MVP of 2016 in WWE. I doubt it’ll surprise you.
From the Top Rope – MVP of the Year
Nominee #1: Charlotte
Some might find Charlotte’s inclusion a little undeserved in some respects. I am of the belief that WWE has very jarringly forced the Charlotte / Banks feud into the position it has enjoyed at the top of MNR cards since the summer, and as such Charlotte’s achievements involved in bandying the red Women’s title back and forth feel more synthetic than undeniable. The important thing to consider, I believe, however, is that they exist regardless.
It is hard for some to remember, it seems, that we were still in very uncertain territory at the opening of the year when it came to the women in WWE. The so-called Divas Revolution was still in full tilt and still coming under fire from many a critic. WrestleMania 32 was a tremendous effort from three of four Horsewomen, but, even after that, criticism remained thanks to some questionable writing behind an underwhelming, often embarrassing Charlotte / Natalya feud. And while Sasha Banks has proven an important heroine for the villainous Charlotte to react to, there still remain some fans approaching women’s wrestling in WWE with an ever-present degree of scepticism; now, with no small thanks to the silly decision to split the division across two separate brands.
Nonetheless, what Charlotte has done amidst all of this, and which sadly threatens to go unheralded, is cemented the vitality of the post-revolution world for women’s wrestling in WWE. Not only has she wrestled consistently entertaining matches on pay-per-view – even if their respective quality had a tendency to dip and dive a little – but in doing so has been able to normalise a method for women athletes in WWE that only last year was still very new and still very untested. Now, women’s matches regularly last as long as men’s main events. Women’s feuds are as likely to close an episode of weekly television as a male feud. Women have wrestled in main events of pay-per-views and made in-roads into previously untapped genre wrestling. And while she has not done it alone, Charlotte has been the one to shoulder the majority responsibility for these increasing demands and pressures, thanks to her perennial presence at the heart of the red division. She has done this, and gotten better herself in the process. You may say any of the Four Horsewomen could have affected the same holistic philosophical change, but the fact is that, while I would agree, it wasn’t any of the others who did. It was Charlotte. And for that reason, her case to be WWE’s 2016 MVP is a strong one.
Nominee #2: Chris Jericho
Time and time again, Chris Jericho has returned to WWE from a stint off and, it feels like, been met with ever more criticism from fans, with his ring work becoming increasingly mundane and predictable. Then 2016 happened. If anyone can argue a case against The Miz having the greatest career resurgence in WWE this year then it would be Y2J, who since the moment he stepped foot back into the company has been on an upward trajectory of quality, with character work utterly unrivalled on either roster. Some of that has been played for laughs; some of it has been played for boos; some of it for cheers and some of it for fun. All of it, however, has led to consistently entertaining television in even WWE’s direst stretches this year.
If anything were to mar Jericho’s case, it would be recent months, as his successes in preceding months have led to his over-shadowing of Owens’ title reign, and title feuds for that matter, denying the Bounty Hunter of WWE room to truly spread his wings and soar. As a believer in the benefits of a competitive locker room, though, I can’t say I consider this a bad thing. That Jericho can be so far into his career and still be forcing younger talents deemed nigh universally – no pun intended – to be of an elite level is a feat not to be easily shrugged off.
It is true enough Jericho has been involved with some in-ring stinkers this year, like the misguided Asylum Match opposite Ambrose, but it’s also true he’s been involved with a perfect sports entertainment feud that introduced AJ Styles to the company in searing hot fashion among an otherwise vile WrestleMania Season, and has been compiling a solid resume of robust mid card work throughout the rest of the year. Should he be the next Universal Champion? Quite possibly, if recent form is anything to go by. Charlotte may have achieved something remarkable on a company scale, but just when Jericho had to pull a platinum career run out of the bag to justify his continued returns, he has hit a potentially career-best stride.
Nominee #3: Seth Rollins
Ok, I hold my hands up; this one comes with a little personal bias, but I truly believe Seth Rollins shouldn’t be easily discounted from the running here. Consider that this is a man who came back to active competition after a 7-8 month lay-off following a seriously major injury and, in his very first match back wrestled what many have called Match of the Year opposite Roman Reigns; and, further, won. That’s a pretty damn incredible achievement if you ask me. Moreover, while Rollins hasn’t been putting together an exhaustive list of instant classics in the ring this year, his pay-per-view efforts opposite first his Shield brethren and, more latterly, Kevin Owens have all been comfortably above average, oftentimes scraping classic status; indeed, my TRSOTP compatriot Maverick called the Clash of Champions main event a “minor storytelling classic” and I am inclined to agree, in that instance and in their Hell in a Cell follow-up.
Hurt, perhaps, by being saddled with the beginnings of a Triple H feud that has stalled before truly even beginning, Rollins has nonetheless done his best with what he has been given. His emotional re-bonding with Ambrose and Reigns provided the emotional climax to the most epic Survivor Series Match of all time – another genre-defining effort to boast his name on the cast list – and his bout opposite Jericho at Roadblock: End of the Line was nothing to be shy of either. Throw in strong contention in at least three instances for Television Match of the Year, and being positioned as the very first overall pick in the Draft Lottery, and though Rollins might not be the first man to come to mind for 2016 MVP thanks to missing half of it, he’s done more in the second half than most others have in the year’s entirety.
For me, that gives me justification for his name being on this short list alone, but it is his scary degree of top level in-ring consistency and success after having such a lengthy time away which is the Architect’s true ace in the hole. Eight months off and your first effort is a strong front-runner for MOTY? Who was the last WWE star to manage such a feat? (That’s a legit question, incidentally.)
Nominee #4: The Revival
When including tag teams in the same list as women and singles stars, how could I not have The Revival on the short list this year? I mean my god; what these two men have achieved eclipses all others. In a company that seems to continually devalue tag wrestling, The Revival has time and again de-legitimised such a mindset. The scariest aspect of it, too, is that just when you think there are no more ideas to possibly throw at the tag format, Dash and Dawson figure out another way to manipulate one of the oldest genres in pro wrestling history. They succeed each time too. How many times have you, like myself, found yourself awkwardly shifting in your seat at what could only possibly be a bizarre botch of a spot…only to realise moments later it was all intentionally choreographed?! The way The Revival are able to not only manipulate tag wrestling in the most naturalistic way, and continually do so in exhaustive degree, but the way they are also able to suck you in every single time is nothing short of miraculous.
Though The Revival’s success in NXT hasn’t translated quite as immediately to the main roster as the Four Horsewomen’s did before them, the long-term effect their ascension could yet prove to have cannot be discounted. American Alpha have been forged by the same fire, and to a lesser degree so have the Realest Guys in the Room; in both instances, thanks to a series of blazing efforts opposite the Revival in the ring, with Alpha’s efforts especially ranking high in honours lists across the fan base. Once the Revival join such teams, and once others that have engaged Revival too, like DIY, ascend in the near future, you suddenly realise Revival may have single-handed laid the foundations of a brighter future for tag wrestling in WWE. That’s even more startling an achievement than Charlotte can boast for the women, in my mind.
The Revival are a source of a domino effect that could yet come to inform a huge cornerstone of WWE’s new Era’s programming; a renaissance of tag wrestling that both pays loving tribute to the past while embracing an innovative future, both built on the back of insanely good, ever-increasing match quality.
Nominee #5: The Miz
I very much want to take a moment to boast a little bit here, if I might. While others had written Miz off and lambasted his work for years, I was championing him as one of, at times the very best Under-10 Minute worker in the company. In the early years of Reality, Miz proved more than adept, but even ingenius at compiling very good mid card matches clocking in under the ten minute mark; a sign, in my eyes, that he never lost the spark he discovered in 2010, even if he lost some of the pace.
2016 has been somewhat vindicating for me as a result, witnessing The Miz not only save us from the idiotic mistake of having Zack Ryder dethrone Owens at WrestleMania for the Intercontinental Championship but then go on to ensure the “Intercontinaissance” that started with Owens and Ambrose in 2015 has continued on full steam ahead; even being exacerbated, as the Money Maker found real form as a central pivot for Smackdown Live throughout the autumn. I think, while looking back on Miz’s year, it’s important to note his upward trajectory started before the Brand Split too; he is not, as some might call him, a beneficiary of a smaller talent pool. His pay-per-view efforts post-Mania are as worthy of a revisit as his recent work opposite Ziggler.
Of course, on the way to resurrecting a fledgling reputation, Miz has begun to consistently compile a resume of what I refer to as “Legacy Matches” for the IC title; bouts that feel they could have been extracted from the vaunted, even mythologised late 80s-mid 90s years of the Intercontinental Championship’s lifecycle. It has been a treat to watch, and Miz looks set to take things even further as he steamrolls into 2017 opposite, it seems, former World Champion Dean Ambrose. As a personal achievement, Miz’s resurgence surpasses even that of Chris Jericho for me, and the wonderful effect he has had on the Intercontinental Championship at the same time is an added bonus, making him more than a worthy contender for MVP honours. Might even a future second World title run be in the works? That before this year such a prospect would have been unthinkable makes all the case I could ever hope to.
The above listed acts are all worthy of their place on the shortlist, true enough, and should rightfully be considered Honourable Mentions but, predictably, MVP of 2016 can only go to one man who, before this year, wasn’t even employed by WWE. and many thought would never be seen in a WWE ring.
The Winner, and WWE MVP of 2016: AJ Styles
A Phenomenal Debut Year for the Phenomenal One, indeed. Just consider his ring record for one. This is a man who already holds two victories over John Cena, one of them utterly clean at the second biggest pay-per-view of the year. His debut was in the Rumble match, in which he had a noticeable Iron Man run. His feud opposite Jericho was of a perfect sports entertainment formula, and involved some top flight ring work. He holds victories and near-victories over two thirds of The Shield. He is, it seems, on a collision course with The Undertaker already. He has been involved in Match of the Year candidates in almost every single category of Just Art’s awards going – main events opposite Reigns and Ambrose; mid card efforts opposite Jericho and Cena; television matches opposite numerous members of the Smackdown Live roster; even one of the best tag bouts of the year opposite New Day. He was at the heart of that epic Survivor Series Match and a bright spot at WrestleMania. He has been a successful babyface and a successful heel. And now, he heads into his second WrestleMania Season as “The Champ Who Runs The Camp.” All of this in just his first year with the company.
AJ Styles may not have had the best debut year of all time – such an accolade warrants going to a Diesel or Kurt Angle instead – but he has had, by quite some distance, the best year of any roster member, main or NXT, in all of WWE.
His ring quality has lived up to his name, as documented in the above paragraph, but his year in more general terms has been no less amazing. AJ Styles bypassed NXT entirely. Some may say this is only right (and I would be inclined to agree) but when you consider other equally experienced hands like Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura have been denied such a luxury, you realise just how strong WWE’s faith in P1 must be. Indeed, consider that Styles hasn’t been renamed either. Truly, this is a growing trend indicative of WWE’s Renaissance Era that continues gathering steam, but, again, it hasn’t been a courtesy extended to a great many talents. Nor do you get pushed to clean wins over John Cena – in large part WWE’s version of AJ Styles throughout both men’s Era – inside of eight months with the company if you aren’t something special. Further, Styles has been afforded the opportunity to tell his story on Austin’s podcast and, if the rumour mill is to believed, has already made McMahon into such a believer that a move to the flagship Red Show may yet be in store. Could WWE’s overtures toward a purchase of TNA some months ago have even been fuelled by a sole desire to own Styles’ earlier career on tape?
All the while, Styles has silenced disbelievers and critics; a small number of hardcore WWE faithful who thought of him as a typical Indy guy, athletic in the ring but with a ways to go when it came to character work. And though it was a small number, that Styles has disproven any of such a mindset, and even turned those same cynics into the truest of believers, especially in an age where fans can be so dogmatically wilful in their opinions, is as mighty a feet as convincing Vince McMahon himself of your talents.
Styles, in 2016, disrupted the status quo as mightily as The Shield did before him; even as mightily as Punk before them. What happens in 2017 because of this, and for the culprit in question, is mightily exciting. Truly there can only be one MVP of 2016, and sat comfortably atop that top rope is the Phenomenal One, AJ Styles.
That wraps me up for this week, but do tell me, how do you feel about my short list and ultimate winner? Who was your MVP of the Year, and who were the contenders I may have missed?
Leave a comment below, drop me an email at email@example.com, follow me on Twitter by clicking the button at either end of this column or find me on Facebook by clicking the link at either end of this column to join in on the debate!
Next time, I’ll be taking a look back at some of the hot topics of 2016 and what impact they have had on WWE’s immediate and long-term future. Until then, thank you for reading!
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