Best female wrestlers of 2016

Charlotte Flair was WWE Divas champion and one of the most vaunted members of the WWE women's division to start 2016. By the end of the year, Flair was a four-time Raw women's champion and arguably the top heel in all of the WWE. Vaughn Ridley for ESPN

After running through the rest of our end-of-year acknowledgements, we've reached the pinnacle: our picks for the best male and female wrestlers of 2016. To be honest, there was a serious consideration given to following the WWE's lead and classifying this as a single category, but our plan -- first and foremost -- was to recognize standout performers and performances.

That idea didn't work out as well as initially hoped. In both instances, one wrestler in particular absolutely dominated the competition, and if you've paid any attention to the ESPN WWE power rankings in 2016, you can probably guess those two wrestlers.

On the women's side, the runaway winner figured prominently in a number of other year-end awards -- rivalry of the year, match of the year and promo of the year, among them. It may be a self-titled moniker, but with her body of work, our most popular nominee has certainly earned the title "queen."

Charlotte Flair

Kind of a no-brainer here, no? True, there has been a push to elevate Sasha Banks, but Charlotte Flair has accomplished unparalleled success in her relatively short stint on the WWE roster. When we speak of Charlotte's impact on the WWE, we're not gauging her against other women, but the entire roster. If there was one category for wrestler of the year, irrespective of gender, Flair would win, hands down. On Oct. 30, Flair and Banks became the first women to compete in a Hell in a Cell match -- and the first women to close out a pay-per-view. Altogether, Charlotte strung together a sensational 11-1 in PPVs in 2016, including a thrilling victory against rival Banks at Roadblock: End of the Line. Charlotte's impact as a storyteller -- as someone whom fans can emotionally react to -- is unprecedented. Look no further than her split with her father, Ric Flair, earlier this year. Charlotte might be the best heel in the business -- and perhaps the best promo. -- Matt Wilansky

Women's wrestling has undergone a major makeover, and they've done it with "Flair." Sure, there are others who have contributed, but there is no doubt that the WWE sees Charlotte Flair as the future of the company. The accolades speak for themselves: the last Divas Champion, the first WWE women's champion of the "new era," countless high-profile PPV wins and a game of hot potato with Sasha Banks that has brought Flair to the top of the mountain. Through all of that, Flair has upped her promo game in a big way, tapping into the age-old tradition (and her birthright) of wrestling royalty. The storylines with her father have certainly helped add major heat, but what separates Flair from everyone is her skill and athleticism in the ring. She is doing things that make the WWE universe go crazy, and even if she's the most hated woman in the division, she has the respect of the fans. There aren't too many Charlotte fans out there (at least from what we hear from any audience outside her native Charlotte, North Carolina), and that's the point. She is the biggest heel in the business today, male or female. -- Andrew Davis

Brian Campbell was taken aback when I selected Charlotte Flair No. 1 overall in our Cheap Heat mock draft. He almost scoffed! But here we are at the end of the year, and she is legitimately on pace to become the greatest women's superstar to ever lace 'em up. Banks was great this year, but she needed Charlotte Flair more than Charlotte Flair needed Sasha Banks. Now I'm just excited to see what she can do next. -- Peter Rosenberg

There is no denying the fact that Charlotte Flair had an amazing year. She's undefeated in pay-per-view singles matches. She's a four-time Raw women's champion. And she's on pace to become the greatest women's wrestler of all time, if she isn't already. Granted, she did it all with one amazing accomplice, but when it mattered the most, she came out on top. She walked home with a brand new championship at WrestleMania. She won the first-ever women's Hell in a Cell match. She started the year as a champion, and she's ending it as a champion. She was chosen No. 3 overall in the 2016 WWE Draft. As much as I love Sasha Banks, I have to be fair to Flair -- and Charlotte is the obvious choice. -- Greg Hyde

This one may be unanimous. Along with The Miz, Charlotte Flair is probably the only heel in the entire company who can guarantee she will get booed out of the building every week. The daughter of Ric Flair could go on to have a career every bit as legendary. She's a true trailblazer and pioneer of women's wrestling, and there is not a single weakness in her game. -- Nic Atkin

Charlotte has proven she belongs at the top of the WWE women's division. Her character is easily the most compelling, and it draws the most visceral reaction from the crowd. While her ring entrance is an obvious ode to her father, Ric Flair, she escaped from his shadow this year when she verbally berated him and cut ties with him after retaining the women's championship at Extreme Rules. She is now a four-time champion and will surely have plenty more reigns in her future. -- Andy Smith

Sasha Banks

While everyone has (rightfully) laid a lot of credit for the historic success of women's wrestling at the feet of Charlotte Flair, it takes two to tango. For every time Flair held the title aloft (four times), Banks has been right there with her (three wins of her own). These matches have been so good because of Banks' willingness to take big chances and her ability to make every move from Flair look like it caused severe, real-life damage. Flair is going to be No. 1 on a lot of people's lists (as you can clearly see), but in my mind, Banks has been Shawn Michaels-esque in her role, in terms of the execution of this memorable series. While this rivalry needs to take a break for a while, so as not to sour long term, I will miss these matches that we'll certainly be looking back at as a line of demarcation in the world of women's wrestling. I think it's closer than some people think, and I'm giving the hair's breadth of an edge to Banks over Flair -- but they were both spectacular. -- Tim Fiorvanti


Asuka has not lost a singles match since arriving in NXT last summer. That in itself is impressive, but even more impressive is her unique, intoxicating style in the ring. She has been the most gifted female worker in NXT throughout the entire year and has held the NXT women's championship for the majority of it, after defeating Bayley in Dallas. Asuka has been thought of as a fan favorite since her arrival due to the magnetic nature of her character, but we're slowly starting to see a transition to the dark side. That role could hoist Asuka to a whole new level. As great as her 2016 was, the best might still be yet to come -- especially if we see her on Raw or SmackDown Live by the end of 2017. -- Sean Coyle