16 Superstars to watch in 2016
As a new year arises, WWE.com spotlights 16 Superstars who look destined for great things in 2016. From a former WWE World Heavyweight Champion to several rising talents in NXT, these are the 16 talents to keep tabs on in 2016.
You may not cheer for him, and you probably don’t, but there is no doubting the incredible talent of Seth Rollins. Throughout 2015, The Architect proved his willingness to do anything to win and achieved milestone after milestone as a result. In 2016, you will see what happens when he returns from his injury with something new to prove. With a new hunger and, presumably, the full backing of The Authority, look for the Future of WWE to reposition himself at the top of the mountain faster than you can say “Seth freaking Rollins.” — MICHAEL BURDICK
Apollo Crews’ ability to throw his opponents around the ring comes as naturally to him as the bright smile that’s always spread across his face.
The combination of weightlifter-like strength and gymnast–like acrobatics make Crews a must-watch every time he’s in the ring. It also makes him a dangerous opponent because it’s so difficult to strategize against him. He counters and reverses moves with ease and breaks out others when you least expect it.
After only four months in NXT, he’s already established himself as one of the brand’s brightest stars. Watch what he’ll do in a full year. — JEFF LABOON
Odds are you will regret not placing your bets on Samoa Joe in 2016.
The submission specialist put together a strong first year campaign in NXT, proving his mettle against the best the roster has to offer. Shifting toward 2016, continued success in NXT feels like a pretty safe given. Past that, a foray to the main roster would be fascinating to track. Bruising battles with the likes of Kevin Owens, Sheamus and Roman Reigns would be sights to behold, as would the Samoan brute vying for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Can you imagine the behemoth Joe in a Money in the Bank Ladder Match?
With a new shift in demeanor and a clear resolve toward standing atop the mountain alone, it very much feels like the only one who can stop Joe from continuing to ascend is Joe himself. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
The argument can be made that Sasha Banks was the best in-ring performer of 2015. Not the best female in-ring performer, but the best performer period. Any chance Banks was given to really demonstrate her skills in the ring she took and absolutely ran with. Dominating NXT’s Women’s Division for the majority of the year, The Boss turned her sights to the main roster this past summer and has yet to look back.
The Team B.A.D. member will break new ground in 2016 when she inevitably injects herself into the Divas Championship hunt. With WrestleMania on the horizon, it only makes sense that her brash attitude and skill level will place her in a prime position in Dallas on April, 3, 2016 … bank on it. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
To say Kevin Owens had an incredible 2015 would be an understatement. The Montreal-native captured the NXT Championship and made his WWE debut by flattening John Cena before beating The Champ at Elimination Chamber and going on to win Intercontinental Championship.
Quite an amazing first year to be sure, and these are all the more reasons why 2016 could be the year of K.O. With a number of major accomplishments under his belt, Owens wants to prove to everyone that he’s the best grappler in the world. Anyone holding championship gold in 2016 will have to constantly keep an eye out for Kevin Owens. — KEVIN POWERS
Jason Jordan & Chad Gable
We are in the midst of a tag team renaissance in WWE. From the OG Dudley Boyz to the new-day, well, New Day, the division is as strong as it has been in quite some time. Several teams down in NXT appear anxious to rise up and join the fray, but few are as promising as Jason Jordan & Chad Gable.
If you heard the reactions Jordan & Gable received during NXT’s tour of the U.K., then you know this tandem is doing something really special. Although they only debuted as a team in July, the pairing has already developed a rabid cult following thanks to their high-impact offense and infectious charisma. The year 2016 undoubtedly promises to be an eventful year for the two. The NXT Tag Team Championships seem like the obvious goal, but do not be surprised if these two eye bigger things. If and when they are ready to make the jump, guarantee they well be ready, willing and … you know the rest. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
If Asuka hasn’t already won over your heart in the first three months of her NXT tenure, don’t worry; in 2016, Asuka will not only blow your mind, but she’ll also do so en route to becoming NXT’s most valuable competitor, regardless of gender.
The exodus of Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch from NXT to WWE in 2015 created opportunities for other women to make a name for themselves in NXT’s acclaimed division, and Asuka took the greatest advantage. Whether Bayley makes a similar transition to WWE in 2016, expect Asuka to establish herself as the new standard-bearer. As vibrant as she is vicious, she will continue slaughtering opponents, lassoing them into her Asuka Lock and knocking out the most overwhelmed foes. (Are you awake yet, Deonna Purazzo?). At this rate, don’t be surprised if Asuka main events an NXT TakeOver special in the New Year. — JOHN CLAPP
Braun Strowman is an absolute monster. That was made clear in his debut when The Wyatt Family’s 6-foot-8, 385-pound colossus decimated Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose with ease on the first Raw after SummerSlam.
One thing you can count on over the next year from this bearded behemoth is more destruction. In fact, we haven’t even begun to see what Strowman is capable of. Just imagine if The Eater of Worlds lets his Black Sheep free to fight on his own. Can any current titleholder stop Strowman in a one-on-one showdown? With legendary big men such as The Undertaker, Kane and Big Show approaching the tail end of their illustrious careers, Strowman is in perfect position to become WWE’s new dominating giant. — SCOTT TAYLOR
He’s so close. So, so close. The year 2015 was The King of Swing’s biggest yet, with a low-key string of statements that he could hang with anyone. He made something from nothing (his thrown-together team with Tyson Kidd that ended up winning the WWE Tag Team Titles), held it down in the main event, and shined like a Swiss diamond even in defeat. It was also the year that he went down with an injury. That the injury came after arguably his greatest performance ever (against Roman Reigns) is a dagger. That he wrestled nearly the entire year with said injury is remarkable. Once he heals, he’ll be unstoppable. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
NXT’s Dana Brooke calls herself the “Total Diva” and she has earned the right to do so. The blond bombshell is a former diver, gymnast, bodybuilder and fitness competitor who won four National Physique Committee (NPC) titles before earning her International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB) pro card. Brooke has applied her amazing body control and tenacity for athletic excellence toward achieving sports-entertainment excellence, and has become a force in NXT’s uber-competitive Women’s Division. By the end of 2016, I expect to see Brooke wearing the NXT Women’s Championship. — JOEY STYLES
Blink and you may have missed Hideo Itami’s big WrestleMania moment, when the spark-plug Japanese NXT Superstar peppered Big Show with stinging slaps to the face in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. It’s worth a replay on WWE Network. A rabid master of the wrestling arts, Itami’s world-traveled pedigree — Daniel Bryan counts him as an inspiration — catapulted him to The Show of Shows before he even got to the main roster. Imagine what he’ll do once he returns from shoulder injury. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
This was nearly the year that Corey Graves returned to civilian life after finding out that injuries were going to prevent him from punching people in the face for a living. Instead, the past 365 days have seen the onetime “Savior of Misbehavior” reinvent himself as WWE’s most promising new commentator. If you’ve heard the splenetic Graves acting like the smartest guy in the booth on WWE NXT, then you probably understand the comparisons to Jesse Ventura, a fellow pro-turned-talking head who liked to root for the bad guys. Graves has a long way to go if he wants to match the achievements of The Body — Ventura’s a top five color man — but he’s already on his way. — RYAN MURPHY
Let’s be honest. At the beginning of her WWE career, the bulk of Eva Marie’s in-ring skill consisted of climbing the steel steps without stumbling. In two years, however, that’s all changed. Anyone who’s watched videos of her training with former WWE Tag Team Champion Brian Kendrick realizes the hard work — and hard knocks — she’s put in to level up her game. Although there’s inarguably room to grow, Eva has proven she’s determined to earn her spot. And with matches against the likes of NXT Women’s Champion Bayley already under her belt, Eva is sure to have the WWE Universe seeing red in 2016. — GREG ADKINS
He’s an underdog; he has an unorthodox look and he honed his offense by toiling for years on the independent scene. We could easily be talking about Daniel Bryan, who shocked the world in 2014 when he ascended to the main event of WrestleMania 30 and captured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Yet those same descriptors apply to Neville, who has flown — quite literally — in the face of convention since emerging on the main WWE roster in March. Having watched and re-watched the former NXT Champion’s blockbuster matches with the likes of Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho and John Cena in 2015, we know The Man That Gravity Forgot will soar to championship glory in 2016. — JAMES WORTMAN
The rise of Kalisto, a 5-foot-6, 180-pound luchador, will be the WWE Universe’s “feel good” story of 2016.
What’s not to feel good about the high-tempo grappler from The Lucha Dragons? The former NXT standout balances an acrobatic arsenal with an aerial flair that hasn’t been seen since the Cruiserweight Division was still running at full steam. He proved he can handle himself in the ring, as he did during his Cinderella run in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament. He demonstrated he’s willing to do what is necessary to win, such as putting Jey Uso through a ladder at WWE TLC with a Salida del Sol so extreme, it won him a Slammy Award!
Oh, dismiss Kalisto for his size or lack of championship pedigree. All of that will change in 2016. — MATTHEW ARTUS
The year 2015 was a breakout one for NXT’s women. Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley all made their mark on the sports-entertainment world in a huge way. But as the current crop of female competitors ascends to new heights, the next generation is ready to take over.
Expect Peyton Royce to be at the forefront of the NXT Women’s Division in 2016. The Australian newcomer has put in solid performances since making her WWE Network debut in late 2015, including a match where she took NXT Women’s Champion Bayley to the limit just one week before TakeOver: London. Armed with an arsenal of kicks that are equal parts graceful and devastating, Peyton will do big things in 2016. — BOBBY MELOK