WWE: 10 biggest stories of 2016

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As the year comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the biggest stories of 2016 in WWE.

2016 was a big year in WWE. With rising stars, the retirements of others, shocking returns, the return of a division, the rise of another, new championships, 15 pay-per-views (and that’s not including NXT), including the biggest WrestleMania in history and everything else in between, there was a lot to take in this past year.

For just the second time in history, the WWE title was up for grabs in the Royal Rumble match. We witnessed the shocking return of Shane McMahon (and another surprising return that we’ll get to in a little while), who returned to WWE after seven years to battle The Undertaker for control of Monday Night RAW. We watched as the former face of WCW, Sting, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, announcing his retirement that very same night. We saw matches that we never thought we’d see as former stars from Ring of Honor, New Japan and TNA made their mark in WWE and NXT.

We saw the return of enhancement talent following the brand split and saw one of those enhancement talents become a bigger star than many superstars on the roster. We watched the reunion, whether they were battling each other or working together, of one of the best stables in WWE history. And we saw one of those men, Roman Reigns, become just one of a few prominent superstars who violated the Wellness Policy. We watched as some big names left the company, and for the first time in more than a decade, one of the biggest superstars in WWE history spent more time away from the company than with it.

This past year was a different kind of year for the company and here are 10 stories that helped shape WWE in 2016.

10. Daniel Bryan retires

It’s always unfortunate when any WWE superstar, or any wrestler for that matter, is forced to retire early due to injury. We’ve seen it happen many times over the years and we’re never quite prepared for it, are we? Even when rumors run rampant that it’s going to happen, we don’t want to believe it. We won’t believe it. But that’s exactly what happened on February 8 on Monday Night RAW as one of the most popular WWE superstars of the past decade, Daniel Bryan, announced that he was retiring from in-ring competition, not even two years after reaching the pinnacle of his career.

After years on the independent circuit, Bryan came into WWE at just the right time as smaller superstars like CM Punk were changing the industry, and after spending some time in some mid-card angles, he elevated into the main event picture in a huge storyline with The Authority and real-life backstage politics came into play on TV. It’s widely known that Vince McMahon doesn’t like the little guys as much as the big guys but Bryan’s popularity grew and grew until there really was no choice but to crown him as the top guy in WWE. The “Yes Movement” became one of if not the biggest thing in wrestling, and after beating Triple H in the opening match at WrestleMania XXX, he went on to capture the biggest prize in the game later that night and was hotter than any other wrestler in the world.

Unfortunately, his reign would end after only 64 days as a neck injury kept him out of action for months. The title was taken off of him, and while he would return for big matches, he never won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship again. He was able to win the Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match at WrestleMania 31 and could have made that belt relevant again but he was forced to relinquish the title shortly after due to another set of injuries. He would never wrestle again.

In the end, it was his history of concussions and the seizures that accompanied them that forced him to retire. While he says he had been cleared by other doctors, WWE’s medical staff refused to do so and thus we got the ceremony back in February in front of his hometown crowd. In a scene that reminded me of Edge’s retirement announcement, Bryan broke down (as I’m sure much of the WWE Universe did while watching) and asked for one last “YES” chant as he walked away. And while he has continued with his onscreen role as the GM for Smackdown Live and did some announcing for the Cruiserweight Classic, it’s sad to know that, barring some sort of miracle, we’ll never see Daniel Bryan compete in the ring again.