It’s Christmastime and December is winding down, so with the 2016 Smark Out Moment Awards coming up, I’ve been in the spirit of recapping what has transpired over the past year in WWE. As such, for the second year in a row, I wanted to tie this into the festive spirit by presenting the final 3-Count of 2016: the Naughty and Nice list of the best babyfaces and heels of the year.
As far as how I went about picking these names, I went with a mixture of accomplishments, longevity, intensity and character work. You won’t find someone like Brock Lesnar here under heels because he was missing most of the time and was humiliated at Survivor Series. Just the same, you won’t find Finn Balor under babyfaces because he lost his NXT Championship and was about to bounce back with the Universal title, but had to immediately relinquish it and vanish. People like Cesaro and Sheamus really showcase the difference between face and heel, but they don’t get the same crowd reaction as others do in their field.
Keeping all that in mind, which men and women made my list? Let’s take a look…
The New Day
This tag team was able to be utterly ridiculous the entire year and never drop in popularity. Would you imagine a few years ago that the most over tag team in WWE since The Shield would have the crowd’s support based on a platform of socks, cereal, unicorns, Big E gyrating his hips, asking “who?” and a couple of trombones?
For God’s sake, we’re talking about a comedic tag team which does more ludicrous things than The Golden Truth and still somehow outshines the popularity of Enzo and Cass, the in-ring credibility of every other team on the roster and has managed to surpass Demolition’s title reign record!
You can’t get much better when it comes to the best babyfaces on the roster than The New Day. Men and women, adults and children, all different races and all backgrounds have pretty much universally backed this silly team for an extremely ended amount of time when other acts have grown stale much sooner or had the audience split on cheers and boos.
No woman in the entire company gets a reaction like Bayley, especially not on such a consistent basis. While you can try to make an argument that Sasha Banks should be on this list instead because of her title wins and having much more of the spotlight, that actually works against her favor in my mind as far as my own credentials for this list. The fact that Sasha has had that much more to work with and still isn’t connecting with the crowd at the same level Bayley is doing with such ease means if you applied the same title matches to Bayley, she’d eclipse Sasha by an even greater margin.
Both of them are great in the ring, which balances them out, but while Sasha has more accolades, Bayley has a stronger babyface foundation to build upon. There’s no “boss section” is there? Plus, if you remember the promo leading into Survivor Series where Charlotte was trying to introduce Sasha Banks, the crowd was much more interested in singing about Bayley. That speaks volumes in more ways than one.
Watch out for 2017 to be the year where Bayley truly shoots for the stars.
The Lunatic Fringe may do things from time to time which seem like they’re more up a heel’s alley, but through and through, Dean Ambrose has remained a babyface for the entirety of 2016. He’s made the save for different people despite having no allegiance to them and his feuds have revolved around heels save for a few babyfaces who got in his way when it came to triple threats (which is natural and happens to everyone, so that excuses the John Cena interactions, for instance). He’s the top babyface on SmackDown, particularly with Cena’s long-standing absence.
As far as accomplishments go, Ambrose started the year off with the Intercontinental Championship and eventually found a way to become Mr. Money in the Bank, cashing in that title opportunity later on that night to win the WWE Championship, which turned him into the figurehead of the blue brand. Few characters get the reaction Ambrose gets, positive or negative, but while WWE loves to cover up Reigns and Cena’s mixed response as “there’s no such thing as bad news”, they don’t need to dance around Ambrose as he’s simply cheered.
How many people can say they’ve feuded with Daniel Bryan since he retired from in-ring competition? The Miz can, as he’s done just that ever since the brand split. While I’ve always been a supporter of his and thought the past few years have not been as kind to him as they should have been, 2016 saw a shift where many others started drinking from his fountain once more, realizing that he’s one of the best heel characters the company has had over the past few years.
Almost singlehandedly, The Miz put Talking Smack on the map with one promo against Daniel Bryan and the amount of momentum he’s been able to squeeze out of that is impressive. Dolph Ziggler has benefited drastically by feuding with him, Maryse has accomplished more just by being ringside with him than folks like Naomi have done by busting their ass all year, and the Intercontinental Championship is in better shape than it’s been in a long while, similar to how the United States Championship had a boost while John Cena was holding it.
The Miz could have easily faded into obscurity with the brand split as someone who had already had his share of the limelight and could be used as a stepping stone to push younger talent, but instead of falling victim to that, he’s remained the second-in-line heel on the SmackDown brand and far surpassed anything Rusev did with the United States title on Raw even though both were set up to be on even playing field when the draft originally happened. The Miz succeeded to new heights while Rusev is currently feuding with Enzo Amore and Big Cass.
Samoa Joe / The Revival
This one is a tie because when I was debating which of the two to go with and listing my reasons, they pretty much lined up perfectly with each other. Samoa Joe and The Revival have been booked in extremely similar situations all throughout the year.
For instance, The Revival went into 2016 as champions, dropping their titles to the babyface fan favorite team of American Alpha, only to win it back soon after. They lost it again to #DIY in Toronto. Samoa Joe defeated the babyface fan favorite Finn Balor in the beginning of the year to win the NXT Championship, had a long reign before dropping it to Shinsuke Nakamura, only to win it back relatively soon after in Toronto.