The votes are tallied and you could say the results are phenomenal: With 51 percent of the vote, AJ Styles is the 2016 Wrestler of the Year.This is the first time Styles has won the Wrestler of the Year award, though he was a runner-up in 2003, 2004, and 2014. Despite his excellence in TNA and later in New Japan, many fans and observers were skeptical he could find success on the grand stage of WWE. Critics said he was too small and too old (almost 40) to be a star in WWE.
It didn’t take him long to shut up those critics.
Just a couple of weeks after unsuccessfully challenging Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental title at Wrestle Kingdom 10, Styles made a surprise debut at the Royal Rumble, lasting a very impressive 28:58 in the match. He scored a major win over Chris Jericho at Fastlane, though Jericho avenged that loss at WrestleMania. Styles earned a title shot against Roman Reigns at Payback and again at Extreme Rules, but came away empty-handed both times.
That’s where it looked like the feel-good story was coming to an end. Styles had gotten off to a good start, but had been knocked down a peg by Reigns. It looked like his flirtation with the main event might be a one-and-done; the midcard beckoned.
But Styles wasn’t having it.
Instead, he declared war on John Cena. He swung for the fences and issued a challenge against WWE’s top star of the past decade. He scored a win over Cena at Payback, thanks to an assist from The Club. But at SummerSlam, Styles stood tall and scored a clean victory over Cena. “The Phenomenal One” had truly arrived.
Styles went on to win the World championship by pinning Dean Ambrose at Backlash. Since winning the belt, he has turned aside numerous challenges from Ambrose and established himself as the gold standard of Smackdown.
His methods may have changed, but Styles has been consistently excellent throughout the calendar year. He scored more votes than the top three runners-up combined.
This spring, Reigns was standing on top of the world. He had defeated HHH for his third WWE championship at the biggest WrestleMania of all-time. He was named number one in the “PWI 500.” But a one-two punch of a Wellness Test suspension and a title loss to Seth Rollins derailed the Reigns train, though he did finish the year with the U.S. title.
KEVIN OWENS 9%
Styles was an unlikely World Champion, but Owens’ ascent to the Universal title was even more unpredictable. Owens managed to land a bout against Seth Rollins for the title when Finn Balor was forced to abdicate, and he benefited from a shocking assist by Triple-H, who handed him the belt on a silver platter. Still, no one has been able to take it away from him, and that’s impressive.
DEAN AMBROSE 7%
Ambrose held the WWE championship for 84 days in 2016, but his years was also marred by a spate of disappointing losses, including a thrashing at the hands of Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania and a string of losses to AJ Styles. At his best, his instability is his greatest advantage, but his hot temper and unconventional antics can also be used against him.
VOTES FOR OTHERS (19%):
Some of the other top vote-getters who did not capture a runner-up spot include: Finn Balor, Adam Cole, Bobby Lashley, Jay Lethal, Kenny Omega, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, and Seth Rollins