It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone — AJ Styles was the best WWE wrestler of 2016 in Rolling Stone’s year-end list, despite only signing a full-time deal this year.
Heading into 2016, there was a lot of speculation as to whether AJ Styles would finally be joining WWE, after a nearly two-decade pro wrestling career. After an ever-so-brief stint in the then-WWF as a jobber in early 2002, Styles chose not to sign a developmental contract with the company, instead making his name in Ring of Honor and TNA. It was in the latter company where the “Phenomenal One” made his biggest splash, winning multiple world championships and serving as an integral part of the main event for more than a decade.
Apart from his accomplishments in ROH and TNA, Styles also enjoyed successful runs in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where, together with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, he was part of the company’s dominant Bullet Club stable.
As it would turn out, Styles, Gallows, and Anderson would all sign with WWE in 2016, though the hype was considerably greater for AJ in the weeks leading to the 2016 Royal Rumble. And, just as fans expected, that was where Styles made his WWE debut, getting a huge pop as he was announced as the third entrant in the Royal Rumble match itself. That was the start of what would be a “phenomenal” 2016 for Styles, who would go on to turn heel on John Cena, and win his first WWE World Championship later in the year.
As 2016 draws closer to an end, more and more publications have been turning in their best-of-wrestling lists for the year, and it’s not uncommon to see AJ Styles among the best WWE wrestlers of the year. These include WhatCulture Wrestling, which had Styles topping the list ahead of Charlotte Flair and NXT standouts #DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa) and Shinsuke Nakamura. But even non-wrestling-centric publications have come away suitably impressed with Styles and his accomplishments in WWE, as we saw earlier this week in a report from Rolling Stone.
In its year-ending list of top pro wrestlers, Rolling Stone named AJ Styles its best WWE wrestler of 2016, stressing that AJ made a “cleanly executed transition” from all his years spent in the international scene and in TNA to becoming a legitimate WWE main eventer, and had done so despite already being 38-years-old at the time of his signing.
“What superstar – particularly one who deferred his initial shot with WWE development nearly 15 years prior – could resist the itch to debut as a hotly tipped outsider in the Royal Rumble, let alone get lined up for major storylines with names like John Cena and Chris Jericho? You could argue Styles was primed for success, but the onus was on him to seize his moment, first by flashing teases of world-class technique and then quite literally springboarding front and center as a cocky villain with no one on SmackDown who could rival his game.”
Aside from Styles, Rolling Stone also gave recognition to Charlotte Flair (No. 2) and Sasha Banks (No. 4), who had recently ended a feud many consider to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in WWE women’s wrestling history. “Best friends” Chris Jericho (No. 3) and Kevin Owens (No. 6) made Rolling Stone‘s list as well, with the former’s heel turn and “List of Jericho” gimmick and the latter’s Universal Championship win both earning raves. And for his shocking upset over Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series, Bill Goldberg (No. 5) barely cracked the top five, despite wrestling much less than the other competitors in the list.
Rolling Stone‘s top ten list was rounded out by Heath Slater (No. 7), The Miz (No. 8), Seth Rollins (No. 9), and the tag team of Enzo Amore and Big Cass (No. 10).
It’s been a great year indeed for AJ Styles, and 2017 just might be better, if not as good, for the “best WWE wrestler” of 2016.
[Featured Image by WWE]