clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Mid-Year look at the potential year-end Observer Awards (Part One)

Hey there Cagesiders. Like last year, I decided to take a midyear look at where the Observer Awards stand as of now. Because this is super long, I’ve split it into two posts (part two is here!). The second one will come out tomorrow. This first one is going to cover the odd numbered awards.


1.AJ Styles (WWE)
2. Tetsuya Naito (NJPW)
3. Matt Hardy (TNA)

Honorable Mentions: Chris Hero (Evolve), Matt Riddle (Evolve)

AJ Styles: At the mid-year mark, this one feels the most clear it’s been in a while. He’s the only guy that has a really strong argument on both halves of Thesz/Flair.

First of all, let's look at the in-ring component.

For his case, he's got the incredible co-main at Wrestle Kingdom against Shinsuke Nakamura in his last appearance for New Japan. Additionally, he has the highly regarded Final Battle main event match against Jay Lethal. And since coming to WWE he's been the best TV match worker in the company by a wide margin, having really good TV matches with Kevin Owens, the Miz, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods, Six Man Tag matches with The Bloodline, as well as his great tag team title match teaming with Chris Jericho against New Day, and the Fatal Fourway number one contender's match.

On pay-per-view (PPV), he had the incredible Payback main event that was a MOTYC. He had the Extreme Rules Main Event which is my current MOTY. And he had the exceptional match with John Cena at Money in the Bank which I also anticipate finishes high on my year end list. And this case is built while spending months stuck working with Chris Jericho as well!

As for his drawing argument, he main evented Payback and Extreme Rules which both sold very well. He had a hugely important match against John Cena in Cena's return feud at Money in the Bank. He was a major part of the Japan tour. He was the co-main event at Wrestle Kingdom. He main evented Final Battle. His quarter hour numbers when they've been released have been very strong.

He's pretty much without question he's been the MVP of the biggest company in wrestling in every facet this year from ratings to prominence to in-ring work both on television and on pay per view.

He has by far the strongest case this year when taking into account in-ring performance and drawing power at the box office, such as it is in 2016.

Tetsuya Naito: The only argument I've seen against Naito's case was something Dave Meltzer mentioned in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter about the lower sales for Dominion this year versus last year, and positing that Naito's reign wasn't drawing because of that fact.

I don't think it's that simple.

First of all, Dominion last year not only had AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura both on the card (the same AJ Styles that managed to sell out Invasion Attack 2015 two months prior in the first IWGP title match without either Tanahashi or Okada in the match in over a four year period, a solid data point for his ability to draw) but also had Hiroshi Tanahashi, who did not work the show due to an injury. If Naito by himself managed to draw the same as AJ Styles, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura combined, then he would be the biggest draw in New Japan in a decade.

If the draw is going to be questioned (which I don't think it needs to be, as one thousand seems a reasonable drop for losing three of your four biggest stars at once), I think another theory is worth at least examining, judging by the reactions at the show where the entire crowd was there to either boo Naito or cheer Naito, is to question how much of a draw Kazuchika Okada actually is, but Okada's status has seemed above reproach for whatever reason.

Over the past few years, we've seen Wrestle Kingdom attendance drop sharply as Okada has risen to the top as the Ace. Historically, judging by WWE and John Cena, if the crowd is solely reacting to you, rather than your opponent, it's probably a good indication that you in fact are what got people into the building, and that was the reaction to Naito at Dominion.

And there's no question whatsoever about how much merchandise he has been moving which surely should factor into the case in 2016 since it's hard to nail down a clear major draw otherwise. Los Ingobernables de Japon merchandise has been impossible to avoid all over New Japan shows this year. Crowd shots at times are bordering on a 1998 WCW show with the sea of nWo shirts.

His in-ring case is substantially weaker than Styles, though, which is why he's definitely not in the conversation for first. But this year there are so few people with great in-ring resumes and drawing cases that it doesn't matter. Most of the best in-ring resumes this year come from Evolve and the houses are still small relative to WWE even including the 1500 seat Mania weekend events, and it's not even clear who the draw is for Evolve.

With that being said, he still has the great title challenge against Okada from Invasion Attack and the two really good matches with Tomohiro Ishii at the New Japan Cup and Wrestling Dontaku, and a second really good match with Okada at Dominion.

Matt Hardy: His in-ring resume is a little light, but his impact can't be overstated this year. For the first time in half a decade, TNA genuinely has positive buzz about it. This is a company that seemed on death's door mere weeks ago, and now is the talk of the wrestling industry to the degree that WWE actually did their own more serious horror movie spin on the Final Deletion with its Wyatts v. New Day feud.

And even more notably, the big Final Deletion match proved to not just be another Sharknado where it received a ton of talk on Twitter but didn't actually prove a success on television.

Impact this week saw a 14% increase on its highest ever rating on Pop TV and a 28% increase from the previous week across the board. Obviously we can't know for certain, but I'd have to assume Hardy's quarters are even higher than those numbers just because that's the big variable compared with a normal episode of Impact.

Given the way the brands are the primary draw in wrestling today, moving the numbers that much is massive, and the biggest singular achievement anyone can point to this year. I don't see him passing AJ Styles, but other than a strong Cena surge in the second half, I could see him ending up at number two by year's end if TNA starts picking up momentum.


1. The Revival
2. American Alpha
3. Enzo Amore & Big Cass

The Revival: NXT's tag team division has been on fire this year, and the pace has been set by the team at the forefront, The Revival.

As their name suggests are a real throwback to the great heel tag teams of yesteryear like the Midnight Express (and what I wouldn't give for Cornette to not be such a wacko so he could manage them), the Andersons, and the Brain Busters and they've brought that tradition to the forefront in a way that has worked just as well in 2016 as those teams did in the 80s and early 90s.

The series with American Alpha is already going to go down as a classic tag team series that should be remembered for years to come. The reason they finish first is both because I found them to be the better duo in the matches with Alpha and beyond that because they also have the really good series with Enzo & Cass from London and Roadblock as well.

American Alpha: Not much needs to be said, they're the other half of the tremendous feud that has been reinventing tag team wrestling and they've delivered huge in their own right in that feud. WWE has not historically been a haven for great tag team wrestling, so it's wonderful to see tag teams take center stage as two of the best acts in professional wrestling today.

Enzo Amore & Big Cass: Aside from the really strong feud with The Revival, they don't have a great in-ring resume, but what they lack there they more than make up for in charisma and mic skills. They've been up on the main roster for 3 months now and continue to be extremely over which is very rare for an act in modern WWE.


1. Alexa Bliss
2. The Miz
3. Bobby Lashley

Alexa Bliss: I've been high on Alexa's character work and talking for a while, but she's completely turned the corner in the ring this year.

The vigor and hatefulness with which she's worked jobber matches has been a sight to behold, as though the mere fact that they dared step into the ring against her is offensive, but she's also delivered extremely well against Bayley and Carmella in recent weeks in more high profile matches.

She's really got a knack for injecting her character into her in-ring work which is always a big thing for me when evaluating workers because your ringwork should be an extension of the character you're playing. When I see Alexa Bliss, I want to see her wrestle like an entitled, sadistic head cheerleader, and that's exactly what you get when she steps into the ring.

The Miz: Miz has always been a good speaker and good character, but he's really come into his own with his work in the ring this year. He's actually been one of the stronger workers in the company which is tremendous growth as a performer.

He was in the ring with Cesaro, Sami Zayn, and Kevin Owens at Extreme Rules, but he felt like the most important performer in the match because him stooging and stalling and threatening to steal the win was what grounded all the awesome high spots everyone else was doing in a well-structured elite match rather than a fun spotfest. It was that ominous spectre of the three guys the fans liked that night losing and him winning that hung like a pall over the proceedings and gave the match its storytelling backbone.

Plus, he's become a very consistently strong heel TV worker too, having Zayn's best TV match this year and having a bunch of really good matches with AJ Styles. Huge credit to the A-Lister for major improvement.

Bobby Lashley: Watching Lashley a bit late last year and early this year really blew me away as someone who primarily knew him from his WWE days. He's managed to develop into a pretty excellent ring worker at this point and is becoming better on promos as well. He's not all the way there on the mic, but from where he one was, it's excellent improvement which is what the award is all about.


1. Shinsuke Nakamura
2. Bayley
3. Enzo Amore

Honorable Mention: Tetsuya Naito

Shinsuke Nakamura: Until a few weeks ago, I was so close to doing the hot take choice of putting Bayley ahead of the King of Strong Style which I'll explain in her section, but the fact that he's still the most charismatic guy in the company while speaking broken English is really tough to argue against. He's just so instantly captivating.

Just like Wrestle Kingdom 9 when many Americans saw Shinsuke for the first time and couldn't stop talking about him, the same happened on an even wider scale after NXT Takeover: Dallas where once again Shinsuke was the singular topic of conversation. You can't take your eyes off him when he's on screen.

Bayley: What really stood out to me most about Bayley in this category is Takeover: Dallas in two different ways.

First of all, there was the reaction when she was defeated. The crowd was absolutely crushed. Corey Graves went so far in subsequent weeks as to compare the atmosphere to Undertaker's loss at Wrestlemania 30. Now, wrestling is never not hyperbolic, but I can't think of any other reaction I'd even think to compare to Taker losing his streak in a hyperbolic sense.

And it's not even like she lost the title to a hated heel! She lost it to a likable asskicker that quickly became a phenomenon in NXT, and the crowd was still devastated. When Brock Lesnar was suplexing Dean Ambrose, the crowd was chanting "One More Time!" Even against babyfaces, normally audiences love an asskicker.

And that brings me to my second point. Bayley is so beloved that Asuka's reactions have gone down since winning because people are that mad that she beat Bayley. That level of hold she has over the audience is really something special.

Enzo Amore: In a little over a month, he and Cass have become arguably the most over act in the entire company. I was very confident the Realest Guys would get over in WWE, but the swiftness with which they have become universally over is really special. Cass did okay for himself when Enzo was on the shelf, but you could see the whole mood change the second Enzo came back out. His enthusiasm is infectious and has swept the crowd everywhere WWE goes.

Tetsuya Naito: Normally I don't go into detail on the Honorable Mentions because this is way too long as it is, but in this category, the entire top four is so close for me, and could hear arguments for any of them at number one, that I don't want to do a disservice to Naito by not mentioning him.

This is a guy that has basically completely flipped New Japan on its head since becoming Ingobernable. He's turning major Tokyo crowds against the chosen face because he's just that compelling as a character. In the CHAOS/LIJ six man tags during BOSJ, it's amazing the way he just completely dwarfs Okada in terms of presence and star power. Okada normally looks like a big main event star in Japan, but against Naito, it's like all his charisma just gets sucked away because a real star is on screen.


1.Chris Hero
2. Katsuyori Shibata
3. Drew Galloway


1. Chris Jericho
2. Charlotte
3. Brock Lesnar

Criteria: "The wrestler who gets the biggest push, despite lacking ring ability or charisma"

Chris Jericho: With. A. Bullet. No one is even close. The man is forty-six years old with main event slots and tons of time on television, the Royal Rumble ironman, multiple clean victories over a guy they're building up as one of their top stars, a clean win over Sami Zayn, all combined with dreadful performances in and out of the ring, culminating with the disastrous match at Extreme Rules.

No one in the world in three separate companies could manage to have a bad match this year with AJ Styles. Chris Jericho pulled it off three out of four times.

When working against AJ Styles, instead of attempting to do his best to get AJ over with the audience he did what he often does and instead used the matches to attempt to get himself over for what a great worker he is, with standard ‘show stealing epic' tropes aplenty like meaningless kickouts of all of AJ's offense, including the Styles Clash, and a bunch of pointless big moves. Not to mention that at Wrestlemania, he didn't work heel at all against AJ, and kicked out of all of his offense, immediately before AJ was going to challenge Roman Reigns at back to back PPVs.

If I got the gift of Jericho, I'd ask for the receipt.

Charlotte: The big thing for her case is that in addition to her lacking performance, her winning at Wrestlemania has basically put the entire division on pause. Wrestlemania was meant to be the moment where the face won, but once they added Becky to the match, they had a way to keep Sasha unpinned and the title on Charlotte and took it, and now she's going to go through title matches with an obvious result from now until Summerslam for no real purpose other than keeping the championship on her longer in and of itself.

While generally speaking, pushing a star is a good thing, unless the women's division as a whole gets more time, it doesn't really help anything to just create one singular star like they did previously with AJ and Nikki without building a division around that star. She's getting better at certain things on promos, but still can't really properly modulate her voice and just starts yelling at random times, gets tripped up too easily by the audience, and still cries mid promo when she's not meant to. Additionally, she hasn't been having good performances on PPV outside of the match opposite Sasha and Becky at Wrestlemania.

Brock Lesnar: Once WWE marketing got their hooks into Suplex City, it began to strip away what made Brock Lesnar interesting.

At his best, he's still excellent, but the entire act is waning (especially Heyman's promos, but his matches too) and yet he continues to be booked completely above the entire roster. I'm not the biggest Ambrose fan, but there is absolutely no reason he needed to kill Ambrose dead the way he did at Wrestlemania.

Last year, when he was having multiple all-time classic WWE matches within a few months and legitimately making Roman Reigns in defeat at Wrestlemania, his booking made sense. This year, it really doesn't. He's not making his opponents look good, and he himself isn't moving the needle at all, and he's not having great matches. Maybe the win over Mark Hunt changes things, but I assume it's right back to business as usual pretty much immediately.


1. Evolve
2. Progress
3. Stardom

Evolve: This has really been a tremendous year for Evolve in every way.

From a business standpoint, they've smashed attendance records this year multiple times during Wrestlemania weekend, but even have been doing better at their regular shows, and hooking up with WWE has gotten their name out there in a big way to a larger audience.

From a creative standpoint, they had the really hot angle with Drew Galloway and EC 3 that got the wrestling world talking, the Sabre/Hero feud has been great, and they've been developing Catchpoint well, especially the sub-stories like Stokely Hathaway's Dream Team and the Rise of Matt Riddle, Bro.

And finally, and most importantly for their case, the in-ring product. I don't think we'll ever see another AJPW in the early to mid 90s when multiple all-time great legendary workers were having killer matches with each other every single show, but 2016 Evolve feels like it might be as close as we're going to get. Even with Timothy Thatcher having a down year thus far, Drew Gulak, Tracy Williams, TJP, and Fred Yehi are all top 15 in the world guys this year, and Hero, Riddle, and Sabre are top 5.

Progress: Somewhat ofbeat choices with these second two, but none of the major promotions have done particularly well creatively or business wise, nor have they shown any growth, so I don't really see what they've done to get this award.

I felt like Progress dipped a bit during Marty Scurll's reign with the championship from its highs with Jimmy Havoc's reign and Will Ospreay as the primary challenger, but thankfully a man of the cloth has cleansed Progress of scum and villainy. More importantly, it's been continuing to grow as a promotion, most notably with Progress's aptly titled recent announcement of "We're Gonna Need a Bigger Room Two."

And from a creative standpoint, what they've lost with Jimmy, they've made up for as well as they can by just shifting the alphabet a skosh in the form of Jinny, arguably the most hated heel in professional wrestling today. The development they've done with Jinny from starting off in ENDVR to becoming a huge breakout star in independent wrestling within a year of making the main Progress cards is really impressive.

Their women's division in general has been really on point this year, focusing around the exceptional Jinny/Laura Di Matteo feud building on what NXT did for women in wrestling in 2015 in a way WWE did not. And finally, they brought in the self-proclaimed Greatest of All Time Chris Hero which has to give them some bonus points.

Stardom: Speaking of promotions building on WWE's women's wrestling revival, it seems fitting that Joshi has finally started to rise from the ashes for the first time in over a decade with Stardom after WWE's focus on the women in 2015.

It felt like Stardom started to pick up more steam in online circles after the extremely well regarded Meiko Satomura vs. Kairi Hojo match in the middle of last year, and that momentum kept building with a new streaming service and them going further to bring women in from all over the world to bolster their roster depth as well.

But most importantly, what Stardom has done extremely well is building up and marketing its three biggest stars, Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, and Mayu Iwatani. It helps that all three are extremely personable and likable and pretty in addition to being outstanding wrestlers, making them pretty easy to market, but they've done incredibly well getting them out there to the worldwide audience during a US appearance earlier this year, including even having them appear during season three on a television show about wrestling that shall remain nameless. They've made Joshi feel like a cool thing for the first time since the 90s.


1. AJ Styles v. Roman Reigns (WWE Extreme Rules 5/22)
2. Shinsuke Nakamura v. Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover Dallas 4/1)
3. AJ Styles v. John Cena (WWE Money in the Bank 6/19)

Styles v. Reigns: It feels like a shame to have all three of the top matches from WWE with all the wrestling that is out there in 2016 (and the rest of my top 25 is largely Evolve and other promotions), but WWE took four of the best wrestlers in the world and put them in big spots with plenty of time to do what they do best, and they really delivered hard.

This match was really tremendous. It had brilliant storytelling with both intra-match callbacks and payoffs to inter match callbacks to the Payback match, as well as crucial storyline callbacks such as the Styles Clash on the chair. It had absolutely batshit insane bumps by both guys (no one since Foley in the match with Hunter has tried harder to make a guy than AJ did for Roman Reigns in that feud, and Reigns repaid in kind plenty), amazing natural precision and timing on so many different sequences without them feeling over-rehearsed, explosive athleticism from both guys, super hot nearfalls (if you didn't at least think for a second the Styles Clash on the chair was going to end it after the segment the Monday before the match, you have no soul), the interference spots were handled elegantly, and it had an incredible finish.

Unbelievably great match and felt like the most violent extreme rules match WWE has done in a while without very many weapon spots or any blood.

Nakamura v. Zayn: I think in a vacuum this match might be a little lower than 2nd overall, but the context is so important and adds so much to the match. Seeing a match that viscerally violent and intense in WWE is something you really never see.

It was worked with such a vigor and intensity, it really came across like two guys that desperately needed to win this match. Few matches this year conveyed the importance of winning like this match did. I also loved that it was a Nakamura showcase, as a debut should be, but Sami never felt secondary. His attempt to defend his legacy and not go out on his back was such an important driving force of the match in its own right.

On paper it's a great match, but the context of seeing this type of match in WWE elevates it to an even higher level.

Cena v. Styles: As great as AJ Styles is, this was really a John Cena showcase. Cena's performance in this match was a career performance for a man who's had a hell of a career.

The multi-layered selling, the genuine struggle to make the big comeback, the beautifully timed hope spots, the offensive adjustments (no rope run on the Five Knuckle Shuffle because of the calf-killer), his performance was just incredible. That's the kind of performance that undercuts the LOLCENAWINS narrative in a big way, because if you watched that match, and didn't think John Cena was genuinely fighting like hell to make his big comeback against a craftier, better prepared, and damned dangerous opponent, I don't know what to tell you.

It's honestly one of the great babyface performances in modern WWE.


1. Stokely Hathaway
2. Maryse
3. Senor Benjamin

Honorable Mentions: Maxel Hardy, Maria Kanellis, Allie, Xavier Woods (if he still qualifies this year)

Stokely Hathaway: It's amazing how good people seem to get when they get away from Ring of Honor. Stokely has been dynamite since arriving on the scene in Evolve and forming the Dream Team with TJ Perkins. Sorry... TJP. #branding. One of the best talkers in the business right now, and a great character.

Maryse: What a wonderful addition she's been to Miz's act! She's such a well fleshed out character. She feels authentic, but also over the top in a pro wrestling kind of way. She's merely a wife that really (and I mean really) loves and is proud of her husband. Is that wrong, you monsters? Oh, her husband is The Miz? Yep, she's the worst.

Senor Benjamin: On its face this seems like a jokey vote, but you could argue that second to Matt, he's been the most important person to the Final Deletion angle. He's been relentlessly entertaining reacting to and humoring his employer's madness.


1. Josh Matthews
2. Byron Saxton
3. JBL

Josh Matthews: There is no announcer in wrestling who comes across more bush league than Josh Matthews. He barely has the gravitas to call a grimy local indy, much less a television show on a national network. It is absurd that they can't find someone more qualified for the position. He's absolutely dreadful.

Byron Saxton: He doesn't quite have the lows of JBL, but he also has no highs whatsoever. I don't think he's ever added anything insightful ever, he has absolutely no chemistry with JBL or Cole or Mauro or Lawler, and he's just terrible at defending himself when Lawler or JBL give it to him. And he's all over the product, on both shows.

JBL: Same complaint as always. He has some highs, but his lows are so very low when he just completely buries performers from behind the desk.


1. Ring of Honor - Best in the World

Best in the World: Where do I begin?

Them ruining the best match on the show after Corino and Whitmer bled buckets for a schlocky Kevin Sullivan angle in 2016? Them doing a 10 minute tired Trump parody moments before the main event of the show? The fact that the main event (that they billed as "The Biggest Rematch in Ring of Honor History") got cut short because of that 10 minute tired Trump parody? The Young Bucks being booked as two tiny Brock Lesnars and absolutely destroying Moose and War Machine when they're outweighed by about 800 pounds? Dalton Castle once again coming up short in a big match?

Any and all of those are why Best in the World was so dreadful.

What a terrible show.


1. The False Hope of the #WomensRevolution

Diva Revolution: I could probably go with Ric Flair sexually assaulting Becky at the Rumble, but that is one of the many pieces of the women's revolution disaster, so it can be looped in here.

In 2015, there was one unyielding beacon of light in the midst of all the crappiness in the pro wrestling that year. That was the NXT Women's Division. NXT created something genuinely special that the wrestling world had not seen in a long time stateside, if ever. It was defined by three dimensional human and authentic characters at the forefront, tremendous matches, including the 2015 United States MOTY, Sasha Banks versus Bayley at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, and a brilliant storyline between the pair that finished first in the Observer Awards among wrestling feuds. It was a feud actually about something. It was the story of two lovable losers and the divergent paths they took to the top. It raised questions about how far you're willing to go to attain success.

For Sasha, she felt there was a choice between being a success that's hated, or a failure that's loved, and chose the former, and attained the success she sought. Bayley on the other hand said that things didn't need to be that way. She wanted to reach the top of the mountain to prove to all her little huggers that you could get to the top through grit and determination without losing your soul. And in Brooklyn, good triumphed, and she was proven right, and it was a momentous moment that felt like things were changing in women's wrestling.

And here we are in 2016, with a fresh coat of paint in the form of the Diva moniker going away and the new title, but nothing substantive has changed at all. It feels like WWE has gone back to square one while places like Progress and Stardom are riding the wave of the momentum WWE created.

Character development and feuds are non-existent, the women's division spent months centered around an old man, since Wrestlemania TV time for women has peaked at 11% and had its nadir at a pathetic 2%, and match times have dropped down below 6 minutes on average. PPV match times have gone from 16:03 at Wrestlemania (plus another 13 minute match) to 13:04 at Payback to 9:30 at Extreme Rules to 7:00 at Money in the Bank.

Not to mention Dana Brooke's performances being sub-2012 level in her way, way too early call up to the main roster because she has the right look. In the most recent story about Nikki's return I saw some comments concerned about her coming back.

Why? Even if you wrongly believe she's the worst, what more damage could she possibly do?

You can't kill what's already dead.


1. Bullet Club vs. Ring of Honor

Honorable Mentions: Triple H vs. Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose, Charlotte vs. Natalya, Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker/Vince McMahon

BC v. ROH: This is a really tough one because all five of those options are tremendous choices. I just feel as though that feud is both really bad and also feels more damaging to the promotion as a whole.

With Triple H v. Reigns, it's less the feud than the incessant desire to push Reigns as a face. With Jericho v. Ambrose, it produced awful television, but it's over and doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. With Charlotte vs. Natalya, it was really boring and largely pointless, but I don't think WWE had any intention of really trying with the women's division regardless. With Shane v. Taker, it was pretty bad, but also ended up with The Authority out of power which is a major positive change.

Whereas what makes BC v. ROH the worst of the bunch is that it's both a terrible feud qualitatively, reminiscent of the worst excesses of 1999 era nWo, but it also completely upset many of the few things in the promotion that were working.

It's forced Lethal into a face role when he'd been a dynamite heel for the past year or so. It completely cut the knees out from Dijak who was set to break out late last year after turning on the House of Truth, and has led to the Bucks being booked above the entire promotion on a level only met by Brock Lesnar.

Not to mention that the closing angle of Global Wars was the second worst ending to a PPV I've seen in years, only beaten out by Summerslam 2015. The angle does nothing at all for Ring of Honor, and is an active detriment to them building internal stars.

Bullet Club really worked last year when it was a middle of the card special attraction act with Styles reigning in the Bucks and producing consistently awesome trios matches, not when it's the centerpiece of the promotion.


1. Gabe Sapolsky

Sapolsky: Man, it's been a while since Gabe Sapolsky was in the best booker conversation, but he's had a heck of a year with Evolve. Obviously, his job isn't the hardest, because he's an even better talent scout than he is a booker, so has a roster stacked to the gills with tremendous performers, but he's still done extremely well using them this year.

First of all, the Drew Galloway & Ethan Carter III feud with Evolve was extremely well handled.

Assuming it's ended now, given that EC3 isn't booked anymore, it was a really well done modern spin on the loser leaves town outlaw angle from the territory days. Build the invader up strongly to start, have him cause havoc in the promotion and in the end, have the hero of the territory cast him away. They had to speed up the timeline a bit in the modern era, but it produced a really entertaining angle, and did brilliantly in furthering the Gargano and Galloway feud, which has also been excellent.

Then you have the rise of Matt Riddle from a potential diamond to an actual star on the independent scene all across the country. The development of Catch Point as a stable has also been great.

And finally, there has been Chris Hero's feud with Zack Sabre Jr. which has been brilliantly told in addition to the sea of great matches they've had with each other, including in tag team competition. It's a very basic feud of a breakthrough star trying to get past the gatekeeper but continually coming up short, but a basic feud done well is often the best kind.


1. Matt Hardy - #Broken

Honorable Mention: Tetsuya Naito, Dalton Castle

Matt Hardy: I had assumed for sure this would be another win for Tetsuya Naito and Los Ingobernables de Japon, but Matt Hardy snuck up on me late and I can't go against him here. The gimmick just works. It's obviously absurd and over the top, but there's a grounding to it which I really love because it gives it substance beyond the absurdity.

He really does come across like a mad old rich man who's completely lost his mind speaking in a weird accent and talking about being given a violin personally by a man who died almost 300 years ago. Even the ability to afford drones is believable from someone who's been running a "Big Money" gimmick for the past few years since leaving WWE the last time. And when you've completely lost it, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on drones to torment your brother who's brand you'd like to own seems actually like a pretty reasonable purchase.

Matt Hardy has always been a favorite of mine for his creativity and continued ability to stay fresh and reinvent himself dating all the way back to the V1 days (although, gimmick change or not, he still has no time for mustard) after leaving the Hardy Boyz, and he's really hit upon something special here.


Stay tuned for part two, and let us know what you think of these votes - and give us yours!

Head here for part two!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats