The jury has spoken and the verdict is in: 2016 was a terrible year for the most part. So many celebrity deaths, so much social and political unrest and chaos, so much division among the human race that reflecting upon this year is kind of a torturous experience. However, if there is one thing that thrived more this year that it has in any recent years, it’s women’s wrestling. And I don’t mean just on the independent scene; the changing of the tide in the perception of women’s wrestling lead to WWE finally dropping the term “Diva” from their marketing, scrapping the butterfly belt, replacing it with a new title – albeit with a lazily recycled design – and more effort being put in their rivalries. For once, WWE’s women’s division came off as stronger than TNA’s. Not that TNA really helped their case as they had yet another year where everything revolved completely around Gail Kim, but new faces were added to the mix and it was very much welcomed. As always, my year-end Top 10s reflect more upon my personal opinions rather than the popular viewpoint; so this list might not play out like most others’ will. But I hope this list kicks off my month of Year-End Top 10s with a bang!
The list contains three TNA Knockouts this year, all of whom held the TNA Knockouts Championship at some point the last 12 months. However, if you forgot about any of their reigns, then I honestly wouldn’t blame; because even when they held the gold, they never seemed to be the central focus of the Division. The Knockouts Universe pretty much still revolves around Gail Kim, whose sixth Knockouts Championship win against Maria Kanellis after their near-year long rivalry this year was easy to sniff from a thousand yard radius. She’s such a huge deal in the Division that her awarding approval toa younger talent is huge; which is why her publicly supporting Jade is such a huge deal. Jade’s Knockouts Title reign was booked unspectacularly, but breaking free from the qucikly fading Dollhouse and going solo, even winning a brief feud with former partner Marti Bell, was a step in the right direction. Ending this year with a cage match main event with Rosemary was especially noteworthy. In addition to TNA, she also still wrestles on the Indys as Mia Yim, appearing for SHIMMER, SHINE, and Women’s Wrestling Revolution this year, and she just continues to get better.
#9. Ember Moon
When I found out that WWE had signed the wrestler formerly known as Athena to their developmental territory, I knew it was only a matter of time until she was blowing the fans in Full Sail University away. I had no idea how long that would take; she competed on months-worth of houseshows for the promotion before making her official television debut during SummerSlam weekend as Ember Moon, in a victorious effort against another former Indy star, Billie Kay. Since then, she’s only appeared on NXT television a handful of times, rarely appearing two weeks in a row. Honestly, that’s the only reason she’s not higher on the list. It’s like she so far has an incomplete grade, but I’m letting her through anyway. On the bright side, she is undefeated as of right now. If you recall, she was #20 on my all-time favorite wrestlers list earlier this year, so she already has my fandom and support. Chances are her push to the top will be a slow burn, but we could very well see her win the NXT Women’s Championship sometime in 2017.
#8. Charlotte & Sasha Banks
Oh, this might get me some complaints. Not only because this is a tie-breaker, but also because these two were kind of the faces of women’s wrestling in the mainstream this year and they’re not in my Top 5. I thought long and hard about whether or not I felt comfortable even placing The Nature Girl on my year-end list. I’ve stated in the past that I’m not really a huge fan of her. She’s always had the athleticism and gained the success, but the personality was lacking. Ironically, that’s exactly why she’s here; consider this a “Most Improved” award. She’s grown more comfortable on the mic, developing a confidence that I’ve thankfully noticed since turning heel. Sasha Banks, meanwhile, slips down a bit due to her lack of evolution as a persona and over-inflation of ego. Plus, we learned this year that she’s not the microphone fiend we previously assumed she was, sweetheart. That said, her willingness to put her body on the line for the business is admirable. The reason I put them together? Because that seems to be the only way WWE thinks they can function. They’ve been so intertwined lately that I’m making them share a slot just like they share the spotlight. If not for the repetitiveness of their rivalry starting to wear on me and shoving the “making-history” bit in our face so much, they’d probably be higher. But still, I gotta give them credit for their hard work.
Time for the second TNA Knockout on the list, and like the former, she probably could have benefitted from being booked a lot better in Dixieland than she actually was. Simply put: the booking of Sienna is a little inconsistent. She was bought in as Maria’s muscle, the big, tough enforcer who was sent to do Maria’s dirty work or just to take care of pesky business within the Division. The problem is that sometimes she was booked alongside Maria, but other times, she’d disappear for weeks on end, leaving me wondering where she went. Her Knockouts Title reign was also weirdly booked and could’ve been a lot stronger than it actually was. Even on the Indys, SHINE Wrestling seems reluctant to give her their top championship despite her being one of their most dedicated, hard-working, entertaining members of the roster. How can you not reward her when she cuts BOSS promos like THIS?! That said, Allysin Kay can manage to make gold out of any sloppy recipe she’s handed through sheer personality. Even if she’s losing to the noticeably inexperienced Brandi, she is a joy to watch in the ring. She plays the powerhouse role well and can switch from being deathly serious to over-the-top comedic in an instant; she’s that talented. Let’s hope 2017 sees her making more appearances on Impact than Xplosion.
With rumors of Japanese star Io Shirai possibly coming to WWE in early-2017, the thought of her stepping into the ring with current the NXT Women’s Champion is mouthwatering. She would be an ideal choice to stand up to the woman who claims that nobody is ready for her. Asuka is cocky, and that should technically make her a heel. Most of the time, she’s the equivalent of the kid on the playground going “na-na-na-na-na” in a sing-song tone while hysterically pointing and laughing. She stands atop her mountain just taunting the rest of the Division for even dreaming about taking her on. She put away Liv Morgan in record time and sent Indy wrestlers like Thea Trinidad and Nicole Matthews (both of whom I’ve love to see stay in NXT full-time eventually) packing in dominant fashion. She even beat a legend in Mickie James in the middle of the ring in Toronto, Canada. All of this after she decimated Bayley and Nia Jax on consecutive TakeOver specials. All things considered, she’s not only the most dominant and unstoppable women’s wrestler of the year; she may be the scariest as well. You wouldn’t think that about someone who smiles that often and dances like this, right? The only reason she’s not higher on the list is because the women in my top five all topped her in entertainment value for me this year. They don’t have the high metaphorical body count that Asuka has left in her wake over the past year, but as characters and performers, they’re the reasons I had more fun watching them than I did Asuka honestly.
#5. Cherry Bomb/Allie
I have mixed feelings on the TNA Wrestling character that is Allie. The assistant to “Miss Maria”, she’s portrayed as an incompetent assistant who has no business being anywhere near a wrestling ring. And that’s a disappointing sentence for me to type due to the fact that Cherry Bomb is one of my favorite women’s wrestlers on the planet. In fact, she even earned a spot on my all-time favorites list earlier this year. On the bright side, she’s also really good at pulling off comedy, so it’s not like the character is a total downer. Quite the contrary; not only has Allie given us some genuinely funny moments due to the natural comedic charm Cherry Bomb possesses, but she’s also managed to get over with the TNA crowd AND win the TNA Knockouts Championship. The fans who once chanted for Allie to shut up due to being able to elevate the pitch of her voice to an unfathomably high level, squeaky level were cheering for her by years end. She was like James Ellsworth if James Ellsworth was an adorable Canadian who could secretly do all of this. All of this while still keeping her Indy career going, both solo and as part of the Kimber Bombs. Allie recently snapped off on Maria, slapping her in the middle of the ring, and it was so satisfying to see after the months of torment from Miss Maria. What does this spell for her 2017? Hopefully something good.
#4. Veda Scott
I know it seems like I put this Providence, Rhode Island-based performer in the Top 5 of everything (except for my all-time favorite wrestlers list, where she rode all the way up to #17), but that’s because her entertainment value never wavers. The thing is that one company is going to be missing out on that entertainment value for the foreseeable future: Ring of Honor. Scott recently tweeted that she’s no longer with the company, but cited that she loved her time there. It was in ROH that she got to show off the fact that she’s The Renaissance Woman of Pro Wrestling. She competed in their Women of Honor Division, worked as a manager, and still found time to occasionally do commentary. Two of these skills also carry over to SHIMMER, where she’s become one of their more prominent heel performers and has recently begun doing commentary with Dave Prazak now that Portia Perez has been forced in retirement. She also competed for Women’s Wrestling Revolution and made her second appearance on a TNA Knockouts Knockdown show. Always one for growing and learning, she also spent time wrestling in Japan this year, sharing the ring with the legendary Ayako Hamada. PWI’s 2009 Rookie of the Year is living up to her potential.
#3. Alexa Bliss
Sometimes in this business, people can surprise you. Alexa Bliss came into NXT looking like if Tinkerbell after letting Eiffel 65 alter her color palette. There’s no way anyone can ever forget this. She came out, blonde hair and a tutu, blowing pixie dust (read: glitter) on people and doing these cute little ballet poses. Then something truly magical actually happened: she turned heel and became the greatest part of Blake & Murphy’s act. No Alexa, no Blake & Murphy, which is why they’ve been floundering since she got called up to Smackdown. Alexa never won the NXT Women’s Title, but there is a case to be made that she never even really needed it. All she really needs is that killer instinct, her gift for gab, and those flawless facial expressions. Alexa Bliss is 25 years old, but her persona is reminiscent of the bitchy cheerleader in high school films, and she owns it. But she did briefly cosplay as Harley Quinn this year; may be the closest we’ll see her get to the cinema anytime soon. And seeing as she just won the Smackdown Women’s Championship, it’s safe to say her in-ring career is looking quite fruitful at the moment.
#2. Becky Lynch
The underdog finally did it. Sure, she lost the Smackdown Women’s Championship a couple of days ago as of this posting, but the fact that she won it at all was a moment that we’d all been waiting to happen for a while. It’s long been believed that compared to the rest of her Four Horsewomen comrades, Becky Lynch wasn’t being treated like the star she had the potential to become. It’s not so much that they made her a wise-cracking, pun-spewing goofball a lot of the time. If anything, that made The Irish Lass Kicker even more lovable. It’s more that they made her way too gullible and booked her to lose way too much. But in a way, her showing off that fighting spirit only to constantly come up short made her a much more sympathetic figure who you wanted to see finally get the W. So when she won the Smackdown Women’s Title at Backlash, it was such a feel-good moment. I personally hoped she would’ve won the main Women’s Championship in her amazing WrestleMania Triple Threat Match with Charlotte and Sasha, but I was truthfully happier for her in that moment than I was for Charlotte or Sasha in their six title wins this year. Her subsequent rivalry with Alexa Bliss was highly praised and deserved it, and now that Becky is chasing the title once again, it may be another feel-good moment should she win it back in 2017.
#1. Taeler Hendrix
The Women of Honor division, though not televised aside from one or two special episodes of Ring of Honor, has been a decent investment for the company. I say this because most of the matches they’ve added to their YouTube page have been entertaining affairs, even if most of the matches have no storyline behind them. In fact, the division has only had one real rivalry in it all year, and that is the battle between “The Exotic Goddess” Mandy León and “The Gingerlicious One” Taeler Hendrix. With this feud, Taeler Hendrix hasn’t taken kindly to León‘s popularity, and because of that, she’s embraced her inner villain – Poison Ivy, to be specific – and transformed into an unhinged and angry individual who is trying to make León’s life a living hell when she’s not competing in fantastic matches with the likes of Sumie Sakai and Deonna Purrazzo. But she’s not ROH exclusive; in fact, this year has seen Hendrix pop up all over the Indy wrestling map. She’s graced the Women’s Wrestling Revolution ring against that likes of Jordynne Grace and Sonya Strong, she’s a marquee name in Queens of Combat, and she finally made her debut in SHIMMER Women Athletes after years and years of hard work, feuding with 95-year old time traveler Thuderkitty (look up Thuderkitty’s gimmick; that statement will make sense). With her profile higher now than it’s ever been before, I wouldn’t be shocked if followed Veda Scott out of the company and potentially popped up in WWE’s upcoming women’s tournament.
+ Paige – I wanted to put her on this list so badly, but it just would seem right seeing as she was only on TV for half the year, and barely had anything to do in that period. The rest of the year saw her sidelined by suspensions and personal drama. I just hope we see her return to the ring in 2017, WWE or otherwise.
+ Kennadi Brink – Mainly here as my favorite breakout wrestler aside from Gentleman Jack Gallagher. Apparently, she previously wrestled under the name Jessie Kaye, but I completely missed that era. But as Kennadi Brink, I think she’s one to watch. Just check out her Women of Honor match with Rachael Ellering to see why.
+ Bayley – I want to say “What the hell are they doing with Bayley on the main roster?”, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that they’re rebuilding her on the main roster instead of having her come in as too big a deal too soon. I don’t know if that’s wise, but the lack of notoriety keeps her off the list this time around.
+ Alicia Fox – Alicia Fox is now a ten-year veteran of WWE if you combine her time with the main roster and in developmental. Just such a shame she isn’t treated as such, even now. The first African-American WWE Divas Champion and she’s paid dust constantly. I hope her flirting with Cedric Alexander leads to something.
+ Thea Trinidad – If you miss the former Rosita in the ring, you should probably visit your local indy show; she’s probably wrestling at one near you soon. The Puerto Rican Harley Quinn has wrestled for Queens of Combat, SHINE, and House of Hardcore this year, along with being squashed by Asuka in NXT. Can they officially sign her now?
+ Naomi – I can only imagine the amount of Internet hearts that were broken when Naomi’s heel persona was nixed. But those hearts probably started beating again when she introduced her “Feel The Glow” gimmick, including one of the most entertaining entrances going today. That said, where’s her Women’s Title reign?
+ Billie Kay – They finally gave her and Peyton Royce gimmicks! Thank God! Sure, they’re LayCool with Australian accents, but it’s something. The beautiful Kay is an alluring Femme Fatale, and maybe with time, she’ll be able to help stir the reigns of the NXT Women’s Locker Room. Who else is gonna do it, Liv Morgan?
+ Evie – Apparently, this New Zealand-born wrestler is one of the women WWE is hoping to get for their 2017 women’s tournament. Great pick. The Leader of Team F’n Kick and now-former SHIMMER Tag Team Champion would be an excellent fit as a top face for NXT. Don’t let her WWE legacy be as a Nia Jax squash victim!