Voting for the inauguaral NXT Year-End Awards is now open and winners will be announced during the episode of the show which airs on January 13. Between now and when the polls close on Wedensday, January 6, you'll see ballots from the staff here at Cageside, starting with mine.
Links to the applicable WWE.com poll are below. For a full list of all the choices in each category, click here.
Overall Competitor of the Year
Bayley - The category seems designed to prove a point or make sure that somebody doesn't get snubbed. If this is 100% determined by fan vote - and I don't have any reason to believe it's not - neither outcome is a sure thing. Some point will be made, but whether it's the one the powers-that-be are hoping for is an open question.
Because the inclusion of this award in addition to two gender-specific ones encourages voters to develop a strategy for their ballot. Do you go all in for your favorite and vote for them twice? Or spread the love and use this as a way to tip your cap to two females or two males?
I'm choosing the latter...both because of the importance of women's wrestling to the rise of NXT & vice versa, and to signal my approval of the brand's postioning of the Hugster as their top star.
Her character arc has been my favorite story of the year, and she's proven to be capable of working a range of match-types against opponents of varied skill levels to maximize audience reaction. I decided to look at this award the way I consider most valuable players when discussing team sports, and more than anyone else on the show - I can't imagine NXT without Bayley.
Male Competitor of the Year
Kevin Owens - More than any other poll (except maybe match of the year), this category is destined to tear the internet wrestling community asunder.
For one, the shift in opinion many fans have made on Finn Bálor whereby they're asking if there's much beneath a great look and theatrical entrance has driven the Irishman's supporters to dig in and double-down on their fandom. But also because it's here where we're confronted with a version of the same issue that came up in Slammy voting for Diva of the Year...should what happened on the main roster count for NXT voting?
In voting for the Prizefighter, I'm obviously weighing in on the side of yes, Raw counts here. NXT canon is pretty clear on this, and dedicating a sizeable chunk of last week's "Best of 2015 " show to KO's pursuit of John Cena's United States title confirms that continuity does flow up to WWE proper, even if the converse isn't always true.
Also, no matter how much Triple H tells us that NXT is a stand-alone, competitve brand, we all understand that getting to the main roster is a goal for everyone based at the Performance Center. So doing what Owens, or three-quarters of the Four Horsewomen, did this year is mission accomplished. They competed for that, and won.
Combine that with eight months of an amazing run on NXT, with a display of the amazing toolset I praised Bayley for above and...WIN OWENS WIN.
Female Competitor of the Year
Sasha Banks - Here's where the second part of that strategy I talked about above comes into play. I could, and some might say should, vote for Bayley. Since if she's the overall winner, wouldn't she naturally be the best woman as well?
But The Boss was just as important to much of the current champ's tale as Bayley herself, and she meets my "promotion = win" criteria I used for Owens. Plus, she's just a phenomenal pro wrestling talent, and I can't wait until she gets a chance to shine again on a consistent basis.
By the same critieria, Becky Lynch deserves consideration, but her accomplishments on this brand weren't quite as impressive as Sasha's. The person I came closest to voting for over Banks was actually Asuka. The joshi star's overall talent and charisma enabled her to become one of the most popular stars in NXT from her first appearance, and really deserves some recognition.
As an unabashed mark for The Boss, though, I have no problem pushing 'em out the way and voting for Sasha, though.
Tag Team of the Year
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady - Almost went with one of the surname only teams like the recently pushed Dash & Dawson, who I adore, or the underrated former champs Blake & Murphy. But the Realest Guys were a near-constant fixture of the title picture and improved trememdously in the ring over the course of 2015. Plus, they deserve some kind of "career achievement" award before they get the Tyler Breeze memorial "might as well" call up.
The big story here is the "snub" of the hottest team in the division, Chad Gable & Jason Jordan. Having a hard time getting worked up about, though. There time will come, and I have faith in NXT Creative to integrate the "controversy" into the story.
If you are upset, enjoy it. We watch because we want to be moved by this stuff, right? That you care enough about Chad & JJ to get pissed is a reminder of how great NXT is at triggering reactions. Fan vote or no, this is still kayfabe.
Match of the Year
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (TakeOver: Brooklyn) - I'm on record elsewhere as this being my MotY, and that includes main roster stuff, so I can't back out now. The Iron Man rematch was superb, but this one was magic.
In addition to Respect's main event, Sasha/Becky, the women's 4Way and Samoa Joe vs. Bálor are all personal favorites from this year, too. But Brooklyn's women's title match deserves all the praise that's been heaped on it (and probably more, too) as it takes its place in history.
TakeOver of the Year
Brooklyn - Now here's an omission I don't understand, because top-to-bottom, Unstoppable was probably my favorite live event of 2015. Everything on the undercard was at least good, the women's title match was phenomenal and Sami Zayn vs. Owens was a great capper to the portion of their story that started at R Evolution...and then Joe showed up.
With that off the table, I'll just be the NXT hipster I've been accused of being in the past. The SummerSlam weekend show deserves the rub as the brand's coming out party. Opening with Jushin Thunder Liger made it feel special from the jump, we got the best tag title match in company history with a fun moment featuring a distinctly NXT character in Blue Pants, Baron Corbin announced that he was for real (and Joe eased fears that he wouldn't be the Joe of old) and then the should-have-been-main-event and that curtain call. I think the men's title match was pretty good, too, but even though I've watched the whole show multiple times, I still don't remember much of it.
For all that, and with May's show not in the running, the other choices are #NotAsGoodAsBrooklyn.
That's my ballot. Stay tuned for more in the coming days.