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The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards: Part Eight – The Most Outstanding Performer of 2016

January 9, 2017 | Posted by Larry Csonka

Welcome back to the Wrestling Top 5, year-end awards edition! What we are going to is take a topic, and all the writers here on 411 will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic, and the end, based on where all of these topics rank on people’s list, we will create an overall Top 5 list. It looks a little like this…

1st – 5
2nd – 4
3rd – 3
4th – 2
5th – 1

It’s similar to how we do the WOTW voting. At the end we tally the scores and get our overall top 5! It’s highly non-official and final, like WWE’s old power rankings. From some of the best and worst, the 411 staff is ready to break down the awards! Thanks for joining us, and lets get down to work.

The Most Outstanding Performers of 2016

a.k.a. who was the best in-ring, bell-to-bell performer of the year?

Rob Stewart
5. #DIY
4. Prince Puma
3. AJ Styles
2. Sami Zayn

1. The Revival – If The Revival has had a big match that wasn’t of immense quality this year, I must have missed it. 2016 was the year that Dash and Dawson established themselves as one of the best tag teams… ever? Is it too early for that? Probably. But their body of work just grows and grows. Feuds with American Alpha and #DIY were two of the very best you could find in NXT this year, in the tag division or elsewhere. Their throwback style is dramatic without once ever coming across as played-out; their psychology makes them so easy to boo, no matter how much you respect and enjoy their work because they grind down their opponents and make them work for every hot tag or big reversal. They’re contests with their foes aren’t just matches; they are dramatic affairs, encounters that tell a story that reference past events and play off them. Simply: The Revival know as well as anyone on the planet how to put on a wrestling performance.

5. Shinsuke Nakamura
4. Seth Rollins
3. AJ Styles-
2. John Cena

1. Roman Reigns – Alright, lots of great talent had to left off this list. Remember, top five and all. Some will miss the cut; that’s just the way it works sometimes. Sorry. As for my choices, let me break it down. Nakamura got my attention in Dallas, and I have been a fan since. Not knowing his prior work, it was eye opening. Seth Rollins may be struggling as a face character, but in the ring, he is just as entertaining as ever. Rest easy folks, AJ Styles will get his due in a later column. Relax, wait a little bit longer for other results. In the few matches John Cena has had, he STILL beings the electricity and attention no other star can bring. Booing or cheering, when he has a match, you know it. Winning or losing, there is some kind of story that goes along with it. Unfortunately, there was a gap in his full-time schedule, so he only got the second spot. Number one went to Roman Reign because like Cena, he has gained a reputation (fair or unfair) of being a lightning rod. No matter what happens in his promo, entrance, or match, people talk. There is always SOMETHING discussed about Reigns after a show. Oh, and in the middle of all that talk, he then goes out there and delivers the good each and every time. Raw, Smackdown or yes, winning the title in the main event of WrestleMania 32 in front of 100,000 fans. Don’t blame him. Don’t blame me. You should be blaming yourself…believe that

Jake Chambers
5. Prince Puma/Ricochet
4. Matthew Riddle
3. Zack Sabre Jr.
2. Chris Hero

1. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Sometimes we forget the importance of trickle-down wrestle-nomics in the annual rush to crown the next big thing, like a Matt Riddle, or cherish journeymen innovators like Chris Hero. The big match style still on display in the matches of Hiroshi Tanahashi anchor the entire national culture of pro-wrestling in Japan, maintain the global importance of NJPW, and in many ways has allowed the current booming indy scene in the US to flourish. People want to sop up this man’s sweat with their babies at the end of his matches because he has transcended the terrestrial realm normally used to evaluate your favorite in-ring performers. And sure, 2016 wasn’t Tanahashi’s greatest year of exposure and accomplishments, but when he steps into the ring you are truly seeing one of the all-time most outstanding performers in history spin his craft and this is something we should never take for granted.

Jack McGee
5. Katsuyori Shibata
4. AJ Styles
3. Io Shirai
2. Chris Hero

1. Tomohiro Ishii – There will be a ton of debate here, since in the ring it is all opinion and personal preference. There will be a couple of name that repeatedly appear on this list, and for good reason. Lost in the departures of Styles & Namakura and the rises of Naito and Omega was the fact that Tomohiro Ishii was a vital cog in the New Japan machine, one that was completely under appreciated by many. Ishii delivered all year, big singles matches, regular tags and multi-man tags; it didn’t matter the match, Ishii was a bad ass and was there killing people for our pleasure. You can put his portfolio of matches against nearly anyone in 2016. New Japan needed Ishii as they transitioned from Styles & Namakura to Naito and Omega; he helped to keep things together during that big transition period but doesn’t get the credit I feel he deserves.

Kevin Pantoja
5. Katsuyori Shibata
4. Sami Zayn
3. Tetsuya Naito
2. Tomohiro Ishii

1. AJ Styles – Honestly, this is easy. AJ Styles was the best at virtually everything this year. For a long time I’ve believed he was the best wrestler on the planet. He solidified that this year. Not only did Styles have incredible matches every month, he did it in a variety of styles against so many different kinds of wrestlers. Want a good old-fashioned brawl? Watch his match with Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules or the TLC match against Dean Ambrose. Want to see Styles mix it up on the mat? Check his Smackdown match with Chris Jericho. Can he do it in tags? Watch his Raw match with Jericho against New Day or the six-man tag at Battleground. AJ can also do the big fight feel better than most, which can be seen against John Cena or Shinsuke Nakamura this year. AJ Styles being called “Phenomenal” is more than just a nickname.

Paul Leazar
5. Cesaro
4. Chris Hero
3. Kazuchika Okada
2. Tomohiro Ishii

1. AJ Styles – Good lord, has AJ had himself on heck of year or what? Seeing as we’re strictly talking in-ring performances here, when the bright lights of pay-per-view are on, AJ has been can’t miss. Nakamura at the Dome, his terrific matches with Reigns, Cena, and Ambrose have been awesome. He’s had his fair share of great matches on RAW with Sami Zayn and others before the brand split, and has been terrific on Smackdown as well since the split. Hell, the only real blemish on his record was his WrestleMania match with Chris Jericho (and that’s only a blemish in comparison to the rest of his body of work this year). There have been a lot of great workers, and the fact that we can only acknowledge five really hurts, but nobody has been better in between those ropes in 2016 then AJ Styles.

Chad Perry
5. Marty Scurll
4. Zack Sabre Jr.
3. AJ Styles
2. Will Ospreay

1. Chris Hero – Much like the “Wrestler of the Year” category I knew it would come down to one of my top two men for the last few months. This category can be left a lot to how a person takes the title. For me while Styles was outstanding as he rose through WWE and put on great match, after great match. Chris Hero outdid him on a world scale. It didn’t matter if Hero was wrestling Ishii in Europe, Evil Uno in Canada, teaming with Tommy End in California, facing Jonathan Gresham in Rhode Island; the same was true every night that you saw Chris Hero and that was that he was very likely to be the match of the night and would tell a different story depending on who he faced. Versatility is a great tool.

Mike Hammerlock
5. Cesaro
4. Will Ospreay
3. AJ Styles
2. Ricochet/Prince Puma

1. Chris Hero – He’s been the Beast of the Indies. The man rolls out of bed and puts on **** matches. The man traveled the globe, showing up somewhere new almost every weekend and dished out a clinic in how to work stiff. He can elbow and cravat his way to glory on any given night. He’s the new version of the old school territory man. Chris Hero rolls into your promotion and brings instant legitimacy. I can testify that Hero caused me to buy a ticket this year.

Jack Stevenson
5. Zack Sabre Jr
4. Chris Hero
3. Matt Riddle
2. Io Shirai

1. Will Ospreay – I strongly suspect that if I’d seen more from Shirai in 2016, she’d take the number one spot, but I’ve seen utter fucktons of Will Ospreay over the past 365 days and the overwhelming majority of it has been just terrific, so I think he’s a worthy winner overall. Ospreay is to say the least a divisive talent but sometimes that’s a sign of excellence in and of itself; it indicates an uncompromising wrestler, someone utterly committed to their style and possessing bags of self belief. All of those things have helped make Ospreay the most captivating high flyer in the world. He moves around the ring so gracefully, strings sequences together with astonishing fluidity, and is a master of deploying even his signature spots in new and exciting ways that drag you to the edge of your seat and keep you there. There are wrestlers who’ve got more substance, wrestlers who are more consistent, wrestlers with stronger fundamentals, but ultimately none of them excite me in the same way Ospreay does. None of them are as prone to pulling something utterly mind boggling out of thin air, and none of them had a better 2016 than the man who started the year as a cult sensation confined to the British indies, and ended it as one of the world’s most talked about talents. His match with Ricochet in May achieved a level of ubiquity that even outstripped anything WWE did this year, and it became mandatory to have a strong, passionate opinion on it. I was in the camp that thought it was a glorious, revelatory bout, and I think it encapsulates perfectly why Ospreay deserves this award. He’s an astonishing athlete who knows how to use his abilities to make flippy, crazy, joyful art, and he did it an awful lot in 2016. Also, he’s been doing this for, um, four years. Yeah.

Larry Csonka
5. Katsuyori Shibata
4. Matt Riddle
3. Tomohiro Ishii
2. AJ Styles

1. Chris Hero – Chris Hero put together one of the best in ring years I have witnessed, putting together a tremendous collection of work, doing it in several different promotions and against a wide range of opponents, while working different styles.

AND 411’s The most outstanding performers of 2016 ARE…

T5. Ricochet/Prince Puma7 points

T5. Matt Riddle7 points

T5. Io Shirai7 points

4. Will Ospreay11 points

3. Tomohiro Ishii16 points

2. AJ Styles25 points

1. Chris Hero27 points

* The Biggest Disappointment of The Year: The WWE Cruiserweight Division – 28 points
* The Best Non-Wrestler: Dario Cueto – 45 points
* The Best Tag Team of The Year: The Revival – 45 points
* The Worst PPV/Major Show of The Year: WrestleMania 32 – 23 points

* The Best Female Wrestler of The Year: Charlotte – 44 points
* The Best PPV/Major Show of The Year: NXT Takeover: Dallas – 27 points
* The Best Promotion of The Year: NJPW – 33 points
* Most Outstanding Performer 2016: Chris Hero – 27 points

* The Best Match of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 10)
* Most Overrated Performer 2016 : TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 11)
* Most Underrated Performer 2016 : TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 12)
* The Best Wrestler of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 13)