While it may be difficult for many to remember 2016 fondly, it was a transformative year for professional wrestling both domestically and around the globe. That transformation was especially apparent in WWE as 2016 saw the addition of so many talents to the company, the women's revolution finally take hold on the main roster, and the implementation of another brand split.
The following is a list of our top 10 wrestling events of the year based solely on views for the live post on our website. Events from NXT and other promotions were eligible, but WWE shows ended up taking every spot on the list.
10 -- Hell in a Cell (October)
Most of the focus going into Hell in a Cell was centered on which match would main event the show. WWE had advertised that the PPV would feature a "triple main event," but what match would go on last wasn't confirmed until shortly before it started.
The main event ended up being a historic one. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair became the first ever women's match to close a WWE PPV, as well as the first ever women's Hell in a Cell match. The match itself wasn't the best that the two had in 2016, but it was certainly a considerable milestone even if WWE didn't hype it as one.
Whether WWE considers the decision to have Banks and Charlotte main event remains to be seen, but Hell in a Cell was the only brand-exclusive PPV since the WWE Draft to break into our top 10.
9 -- Fastlane (February)
Fastlane didn't quite end up being the last Network special before WrestleMania with the addition of Roadblock (the one before the End of the Line) in March, but it decided who would go on to face Triple H for the WWE title at AT&T Stadium.
Roman Reigns won a triple threat match over Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar to earn that spot. The direction for other WrestleMania matches was also solidified at Fastlane with Charlotte defeating Brie Bella to retain her title and Kevin Owens successfully defending the Intercontinental Championship against Dolph Ziggler.
AJ Styles defeated Chris Jericho on the show in his first PPV singles match after joining WWE, and the two would go on to face each other again at WrestleMania.
8 -- Survivor Series (November)
This was a bit of a surprise. Goldberg essentially squashing Lesnar in the main event was one of the most talked about WWE moments of 2016, but Survivor Series still ranked in the bottom half of this top 10.
What that can be attributed to is anyone's guess. Perhaps the traditional Survivor Series elimination tag matches failed to capture the attention of viewers who wanted title matches, but this was proof that the “big four” wouldn’t easily top this list like I had expected.
7 -- Money in the Bank (June)
Two title changes ultimately ended up headlining this year’s Money in the Bank. Rollins defeated Reigns in the scheduled main event as he made his return from a lengthy absence due to a knee injury to reclaim the WWE Championship. But Rollins’ reign didn’t last long. Ambrose cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase that he won earlier in the night to win his first top title in WWE.
Just two days later, it was announced that Reigns had been suspended for 30 days due to a wellness policy violation.
The show may end up most remembered for being home to the first singles meeting between Styles and John Cena. Styles got a win over Cena with the help of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows here, and he went on to get a clean win over Cena two months later at SummerSlam. The two will meet for the third time on the first WWE PPV of 2017 as the Royal Rumble takes place in San Antonio, Texas.
6 -- Royal Rumble (January)
Survivor Series ranking so low made it so this wasn't unexpected, but it was still pretty surprising. Where Survivor Series has lost some of its luster, the Royal Rumble is still unquestionably one of WWE's top few events of the year. The show also traditionally serves as the start of WrestleMania season every year.
But for whatever reason, the 2016 edition ranked in the bottom half of our top 10. It was, like most years, headlined by the 30-man Royal Rumble match, but this year's match was for the WWE Championship rather than a title shot at WrestleMania.
Triple H came out on top by last eliminating Ambrose. The Rumble also featured Styles' WWE debut after news that he had signed with the company broke earlier in the year.
5 -- Extreme Rules (May)
With two strong WWE Match of the Year contenders, it’s easy to look back fondly on Extreme Rules. Reigns defended the WWE Championship against Styles in a match where both men put on tremendous performances.
It was a shame to see Styles removed from the title picture as Rollins made his return after the match was over to continue his feud with Reigns, but that decision is easier to tolerate with the benefit of hindsight. Styles went on to feud with Cena and again have great main event PPV title matches after he was established as one of the top stars of the SmackDown brand.
The second WWE Match of the Year contender came earlier in the night as The Miz defended the Intercontinental Championship in a fatal four-way against Cesaro, Owens, and Sami Zayn. In a year where Miz was involved in several excellent IC title matches, this four-way remains his best match of 2016 for me.
There were some low points on the Extreme Rules card, though. The less said the better about the tedious Ambrose Asylum match between Ambrose and Jericho.
4 -- Payback (May)
Boosted by its position on the WWE calendar as the first PPV after WrestleMania, Payback was also the first of two times that Styles challenged Reigns for the WWE title in a PPV main event. Styles would have to wait until later in the year to win that championship, but his series with Reigns and later matches with Cena likely were what solidified his place at the top of WWE cards.
Styles and Reigns went on to have a better match at Extreme Rules. And Owens and Zayn’s Payback match was topped by their (for now) feud ender at Battleground in July.
3 -- Monday Night Raw: A new Universal Champion is crowned (August)
The guarantee of a new Universal Champion led to the August 29th edition of Raw beating all but two PPVs in views, and it obliterated all other TV shows. As a result of Finn Balor injuring his shoulder at SummerSlam and requiring surgery to repair the injury, Reigns, Rollins, Owens, and Big Cass were placed into a fatal four-way main event to decide Raw's new top champion.
Owens won the title with some help from Triple H. We haven't seen Triple H on Raw since, but with WrestleMania season quickly approaching -- it seems likely that his program with Rollins will soon kick into high gear.
2 -- SummerSlam (August)
WWE's attempts to turn SummerSlam into their second biggest event of the year proved to be a success based on our metrics. The difference in views between SummerSlam and the August episode of Raw was greater than any previous jump on this list.
This year’s edition of SummerSlam was the second PPV after the WWE Draft. It was headlined by a match between Raw’s Lesnar and SmackDown’s Randy Orton that would become most remembered for its controversial finish with Lesnar opening up Orton’s forehead with stiff strikes.
The Universal Championship was unveiled to a negative reaction from the live crowd, and Balor was the first titleholder before having to relinquish it due to the injury he suffered during his match with Rollins.
Elsewhere on a loaded card that delivered in some spots and failed to in others, Styles got a clean win over Cena, Charlotte regained the Women’s Championship by beating Banks before Banks took a few weeks off due to back issues, and Ambrose retained his WWE title against Ziggler.
1 -- WrestleMania 32 (April)
As if there was any doubt, WrestleMania easily topped this list. WWE's signature event of the year didn't double SummerSlam, but traffic for the show came in at 65 percent higher than that post.
The show will likely be remembered more for the spectacle of it than anything else with just under 100,000 fans packed into AT&T Stadium to see the marathon event.
Most of the build going into the night was based on Shane McMahon’s Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker. With Shane’s leap off of the Cell to the announce table below, the match probably delivered as much as it could. And Reigns won the WWE Championship after he defeated Triple H in a flat main event.
The most significant thing to come out of the show was the end of the WWE’s divas division. After the announcement was made that the women would be referred to as superstars from then on and a new title was unveiled, Charlotte was the first to hold it after defeating Banks and Becky Lynch in a very good triple threat match.