Unlike the year before it -- when professional wrestling was plagued by injuries and personal setbacks (see The Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2015 for that list) -- 2016 delivered in spades.

 

The industry was infused with exciting new talent and interesting characters; some of them even switched companies, harkening to the old days of "jumping ship" between promotions. A bigger platform was given to women and cruiserweights on an international stage. Wrestling legends continued to make the news; some in ways no one could have predicted.

 

But which of these were the most newsworthy items of all? 

 

In counting down the Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2016, Canadian Bulldog's World considered the following criteria:

 

  • Was the event unique to this year? Or does it happen quite frequently? 

  • What were the overall ramifications for said event?

  • Did the development have a profound impact on how this wrestler or promotion did business?

  • Did this development receive any mainstream publicity outside of the wrestling community?

 

When possible, we have tried to add a date to each development. Some of them combine more than one event, and some lump a string of developments to demonstrate an overall trend.

 

If you'd like to be a part of this conversation, Tweet us at @canadianbulldog using the hashtag #Top50, or leave a comment below.

 

Ready? Here we go!

50.

April 9

Sexy Star wins Lucha Underground title

History was made in the innovative Lucha Underground when the masked Sexy Star became the first female to hold the promotion's main championship. In an Aztec Warfare match, Sexy Star outlasted Rey Mysterio, Mil Muertes and 17 others to receive the championship.

48.

April 6

Total (lack of) Bellas

Even though the E! Network was building to a Total Bellas reality series based on WWE's most famous twin sisters, the company were without either Bella following WrestleMania XXXII. Nikki Bella was sidelined with a neck injury until the summer, while Brie Bella semi-retired and later that year became pregnant.

46.

August 19

Cole vs. Lethal

2016 was a huge year for Adam Cole. In May, he joined The Bullet Club, carrying on an ongoing angle between New Japan and Ring of Honor. And at the Death Before Dishonor XIV iPPV, Cole defeated Jay Lethal to become a two-time ROH World Champion, ending Lethal's year-long reign on top of the promotion.

44.

May 6

Spring housecleaning

By now, WWE fans are used to the company making random talent releases in bulk, but the Future Endeavors Club announced on May 6 was quite startling. Damien Sandow, Wade Barrett, Hornswoggle, Cameron, Santino Marella, El Torito and Zeb Colter were among the Superstars looking for work by day's end.

42.

February 4 / April 12

RIP Balls & Axl

Balls Mahoney (Jon Rechner) and Axl Rotten (Brian Knighton) were once icons in ECW, known collectively as The Hardcore Chair-Swingin' Freaks. In 2016, both men passed away within two months of each other, suffering from a heart attack and heroin overdose, respectively. Both hardcore icons will be missed.

40.

September 10

CM Punk loses UFC debut

Ever since he left wrestling in 2014, two-time WWE Champion CM Punk had been training for a career in mixed martial arts. At UFC 203, Punk made his debut in the Octagon, losing to Mickey Gall by submission in just 2:14. UFC President Dana White has encouraged Punk's next fight to be for another group.

38.

October 25

Wyatt Family Values

Another "enemies become partners" storyline took place on SmackDown Live, with Randy Orton joining Bray Wyatt's faction after feuding for months. Wyatt had lost Erick Rowan and Luke Harper to injury and Braun Strowman to Raw, so it made sense to land a new recruit. Orton and Wyatt then captured the tag titles.

36.

May 23

Trouble in Flair-a-dise

Ever since Charlotte Flair debuted in NXT, she had a strong tie to her legendary father, WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair. But on the Raw after Extreme Rules, an increasingly heelish Charlotte said she no longer needed Slick Ric around, and kicked him out of her entourage. In December, she slapped her father.

34.

May 22

Rollins returns

Following an injury the previous November, Seth Rollins made a surprise appearance at Extreme Rules, attacking his former Shield member Roman Reigns. Instead of turning face afterwards as was expected, Rollins remained a heel, at least until he was ambushed in the fall by his former mentor Triple H.

32.

August 28

Mr. Fuji passes away

Harry Fujiwara, best known as WWE Hall of Famer Mr. Fuji, passed away at the age of 82. Fuji was a legendary wrestler in the 1970s and 1980s, capturing five WWWF Tag Team Championships, and became a manager of such heels as Magnificent Muraco, The Berzerker, Demolition, Kamala, Sika and Yokozuna.

30.

December 15

Brock Lesnar suspended... by UFC

Brock Lesnar took a hiatus from WWE to fight at UFC 200 in July, where he easily defeated Mark Hunt. However, Lesnar was revealed to have violated UFC's anti-doping rules and eventually received a one year suspension from the league. This had no bearing on his work with WWE.

28.

Joe vs. Nakamura

One of the most compelling rivalries in NXT history happened this year, featuring recent signees Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe. The NXT Championship changed hands three times between the two men, in tremendous contests at two NXT TakeOver specials and during a live event in Osaka, Japan.

26.

December 10

Cena Night Live

John Cena took another step towards mainstream celebrity acceptance when he hosted Saturday Night Live. Between poking fun at WWE promos, participating in goofy sketches and impersonating New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, Cena showed his comedic side, opening the door for a next career.

24.

July 19 - August 22

Balor's Demonic month

Things were looking up for Finn Balor when he was drafted fifth overall in the WWE Draft. The Demon King quickly proved his mettle by becoming number one contender and winning the new Universal Title at SummerSlam. However, Balor injured his shoulder during that match, forcing him to vacate the belt.

22.

April 20

Chyna passes away

Joanie Laurer, better known to wrestling fans as Chyna, passed away at the age of 46. Arguably the top female character during WWF's Attitude Era, Chyna was a member of D-Generation X and wrestling's first female WWF Intercontinental Champion. While controversial, Chyna left an indelible mark on the industry.

20.

August 25

Highest-paid Rock

The Rock broke new ground for himself and for professional wrestling when Forbes Magazine declared him the world's highest-paid actor, with $64.5 million sitting in The People's Bank Account. While wrestlers were once seen as a scourge on Hollywood, this may pave the way for other grapplers to thrive.

18.

June 19

Lunatic in the Bank

Dean Ambrose became the final member of The Shield to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Money In The Bank. In classic WWE storytelling, Ambrose won the MITB briefcase earlier in the evening and then cashed it in on Seth Rollins, who had just pinned Roman Reigns to win the title.

16.

September 11

Styles vs. Ambrose

During Backlash, SmackDown Live's first post-split PPV, Dean Ambrose defended the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against AJ Styles, who had increasingly built on his heel persona throughout the summer. Following a low blow and a Styles Clash, Styles captured his first WWE Championship belt.

14.

You Just Made The List!

What began as a campaign against Raw General Manager Mick Foley in September became a running shtick for Chris Jericho, who would carry a clipboard to the ring and add anyone who had wronged him to The List Of Jericho. Will Jericho's best friend Kevin Owens be added to the list in 2017?

12.

December 12

New... Day Rocks!

The New Day set a record at the end of 2016 by holding the WWE Tag Team Titles for 483 consecutive days, surpassing Demolition's record, making Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods the longest reigning tag team champions in WWE history. They lost the titles just days after setting the record.

10.

July 5

The Final Deletion

By far the most entertaining character in TNA was that of "Broken" Matt Hardy, who increasingly snapped to the point where he challenged his brother Jeff Hardy to a bizarre grudge match. Their battle, dubbed The Final Deletion, made TNA the talk of professional wrestling for the first time in several years.

8.

January 24

Phenomenal debut

The Royal Rumble had one its biggest surprise debuts in the event's history when former TNA and IWGP Champion AJ Styles entered at number three. The Phenomenal One lasted nearly half an hour in the match before being eliminated by Kevin Owens, setting up the start of a tremendous WWE run.

6.

March 18

Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker

WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan has had many surprising victories in his career, but perhaps none more than surprising than the one handed to him by a Florida judge, awarding The Hulkster $115 million in his defamation suit against Gawker. By November, the website settled with Hogan for $31 million.

4.

November 8

WWE Hall of Famer elected U.S. President

Let's be honest -- the above headline isn't one you get to see every day. But Donald Trump, who has partnered with WWE for years and was elected to its Hall of Fame, was elected to be 45th President of the United States. On top of that, Trump pegged Linda McMahon to run the Small Business Administration.

2.

July 19

WWE brand split

After several years of combining the Raw and SmackDown rosters, WWE held a draft to split the brands once again, with both shows now broadcasting live programs on the USA Network. The split has led to increased pay-per-view, more championships and opportunities for more talents to shine on a major platform.

49

June 19

Heath Slater: Free Agent

At the outset of WWE's first brand extension draft in five years, all of the top WWE superstars were assigned to Raw or SmackDown, including several big names from NXT. But at the end of the draft, Heath Slater was the only man undrafted, leading to a huge storyline that year for the One Man Rock Band.

47.

October 24 

Enter FloSlam

Following the success of WWE Network and New Japan World, FloSports launched a streaming service for independent wrestling companies such as EVOLVE, SHINE, Full Impact Pro and other WWNLive properties. For $20 a month, fans get access to live and archived wrestling content going back to 2003.

45

August 11

Lashley wins all the gold

Bobby Lashley was already on top of TNA Wrestling by June, defeating Drew Galloway to win the promotion's World Title. The following month, he pinned Eddie Edwards to win the X Division Championship as well. And in August, Lashley defeated James Storm to also hold the TNA King of the Mountain Title.

43.

May 22

Cody goes it alone

Unlike many of the others released earlier that month, Cody Rhodes voluntarily left WWE, frustrated by the company's promotion of him as Stardust. With a new lease on life, Cody took to the indepedents and has also made appearances in TNA, ROH and became a member of The Bullet Club in Japan.

41.

April 4

How You Doin'?

After making a brief appearance at a WWE main roster show in March, Enzo Amore and Big Cass became a permanent part of the group the night after WrestleMania XXXII. They've since become one of the most popular tag teams in WWE with unique catchphrases and their overall appearance.

39.

December 18

Enemies to Champions

Following the brand split in July, Cesaro and Sheamus were often pitted against each other, leading to a Best Of Seven series where neither man was declared the winner. Raw General Manager encouraged the rivals to become (reluctant) partners, resulting in the duo ending The New Day's historic title reign.

37.

August 3

Glorious!

After months of speculation, former TNA World Champion Bobby Roode joined NXT and quickly become one of the brand's top heels. Between his cocky charisma and catchy Queen-esque "Glorious Domination" theme, Roode has since become the top contender to Shinsuke Nakamura's NXT title.

35

January 5

New Bullet Club leader

With Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and leader AJ Styles leaving New Japan, the country's top faction needed a new front man. Enter Kenny Omega, who led The Bullet Club into turning on Styles at New Year's Dash. The following month, Omega defeated Hiroshi Tanashi to become IWGP Intercontinental Champion.

33.

August 22

D'Von... GET THE RETIREMENT!

After a year-long return to WWE, The Dudley Boyz appeared on an August edition of Raw, where fans were told the legendary duo were retiring. Whether it was just a way to take Bubba Ray and D'Von Dudley off TV, or it was a legitimate retirement, it was an odd situation.

31.

April 7

Blackjack Mulligan passes away

Bob Windham, better known as WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Mulligan, passed away at the age of 73. Mulligan is the father of Barry and Kendall Windham, the father-in-law of Mike Rotunda and grandfather to current WWE superstars Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas.

29.

July 25

EllsworthMania!

During the first Raw following WWE's brand extension, Braun Strowman destroyed an enhancement talent by the names of James Ellsworth in a squash match. Little did anyone know at the time the chin-impaired performer would later be signed by the company, defeating AJ Styles on more than one occasion. 

27.

May 8

Cruiserweight Classic

WWE announced it was holding The Cruiserweight Classic for competitors weighing 205 pounds or less. The 32-man tournament took place between July and September and featured stars such as Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr., Tajiri and TJ Perkins, paving the way for WWE's reinvigorated Cruiserweight Division.

25.

Alberto & Paige

One of the most interesting stories in 2016 featured Alberto Del Rio and Paige. Both competitors were suspended for Wellness Policy violations in August (Del Rio then left WWE), Paige was suspended for a second time in October, and the two have become engaged, although Del Rio was still married to his current wife.

23.

May 27

Ricochet vs. Ospreay

Junior heavyweight stars Ricochet and Will Ospreay competed at New Japan's Best of the Super Juniors Tournament. The match, which Ospreay won, was complimented by many wrestling legends and criticized by others, including Big Van Vader -- yet the match was briefly the talk of the entire wrestling world.

21.

Corgan vs. Carter

When Billy Corgan arrived in TNA in 2015, he became an equity investor in the slumping promotion. Things came to a head in October when Corgan went to court claiming TNA President Dixie Carter had undermined the company in sale negotiations, forcing a settlement between Corgan and Anthem Sports.

19.

August 23

Miz talks smack

WWE Network's Talking Smack post-show earned its name when Intercontinental Champion The Miz unloaded on SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan, going on a live two-minute tirade that came across as a shoot and became the talk of the wrestling community in the days following.

17.

April 2

Sting calls it a career

Sting, a multiple-time World Champion in both WCW and TNA, announced his retirement during his speech accepting a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. Sting was one of the most iconic wrestling characters in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, battling everyone from Ric Flair to Lex Luger to Hulk Hogan to Triple H.

15.

April 3

It's the Womens Championship now

WWE took one small step towards gender equality at WrestleMania XXXII by renaming the Divas Championship, established in 2008, as the WWE Women's Championship. The first match for the belt was contested by Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch.

13.

February 22

Shane O' Mac is back

Shane McMahon made his first appearance on WWE programming in seven years, interrupting an in-ring promo with his estranged father and sister. The return led to a match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXXII and a role as the Commissioner of SmackDown Live throughout the rest of the year.

11.

April 3

Reigns regains

Roman Reigns was screwed out of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the Royal Rumble, having to put the title up in the battle royal. Triple H came in last as a surprise entrant and won the title. Reigns then regained the gold from The Game in the main event of WrestleMania XXXII.

9.

August 7

Conor calls out WWE stars

Conor McGregor earned the ire of wrestling fans when he said "those WWE guys are p*ssies" during a media call to promote UFC 202. Stars ranging from Kurt Angle to Sasha Banks fired back on social media, while rumors still persist that McGregor's next job could be in WWE.

7.

October 30

Women go to Hell

Womens wrestling rose to new heights in 2016, and nowhere was that more evident than at the Hell In A Cell PPV, where Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks not only competed in the first women's HIAC match, but were also the first women to headline a PPV. Flair won the match, recapturing the Womens Title.

5.

August 29

The Kevin Owens Show

Since his WWE debut in 2014, Kevin Owens has held the NXT Championship and the Intercontinental Title twice. But his biggest victory came on Monday Night Raw when Owens competed in a fatal four way match and, along with the surprise appearance of Triple H, captured WWE's Universal Championship.

3.

February 8

Thank you, Daniel

After spending the better part of two years struggling with various injuries, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan announced his retirement on Monday Night Raw. The popular superstar wasn't done with the company, though: Bryan later became an announcer, host of Talking Smack and SmackDown Live General Manager.

1.

January 4

NJPW exodus to WWE

Not since The Radicalz jumped from WCW to WWF in 2000 have a group of top competitors jumped organizations. Following New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom 10, word began circulating that AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson were all headed to WWE. At year end, Styles was WWE Champion and Nakamura was NXT Champion.

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