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


Check out yesterday’s “Part One” here. Now, back to the awards!


1. Chris Hero (Evolve)
2. AJ Styles (WWE)
3. Matt Riddle (Evolve)

Honorable Mentions: Zack Sabre Jr. (Evolve), Will Ospreay (NJPW), Kamaitachi (CMLL), Roman Reigns (WWE), Tracy Williams (Evolve), KUSHIDA (NJPW), Drew Gulak (Evolve), Fred Yehi (Evolve)

Chris Hero: Hero has completely thrived this year in the land of mat wrestling of Evolve as the gatekeeper and the grumpy veteran beating the hell out of the roster with elbows, kicks, and piledrivers while they’re trying to grab some holds. He had multiple great tag and singles matches opposite Zack Sabre Jr. including an incredible tag team match teaming with Tommy End against Sabre and Sami Callihan as well as continuing his rivalry with Timothy Thatcher in another great match at Evolve 62.

In addition to his work with the mat wrestlers like Sabre, he’s also brought a different flavor to Evolve with his wars against the bigger strikers of Evolve. He had a tremendous match against Matt Riddle at Evolve 57 that made Riddle look like a million bucks and another great heavy striking battle with Tracy Williams at Evolve 56.

At the moment, he has my 4th, 5th, 11th, 13th, 14th, and 19th best matches of the year, a feat no one else can touch.

AJ Styles: In addition to his big marquee matches with Shinsuke Nakamura, Roman Reigns, and John Cena, AJ has been incredibly consistent in a bunch of different promotions this year delivering basically every time out. AJ is a guy who will give his heart and soul in every single match whether it’s the main event of Extreme Rules with all the eyes of the world of wrestling on him against the top guy in WWE or in a small Georgia independent against Corey Hollis of recent NXT fame in a booking he had no reason to keep after already debuting at the Rumble.

No one in the world has gone three stars plus more than AJ this year, and that’s with half the voting period spent with an albatross around his neck in the form of Chris Jericho.

Matt Riddle: Bro.

…okay, I guess I should add some more. Matt Riddle is already in contention to be the best rookie in the history of a business with a long, long history. Historically, people transitioning from shoot fighting to wrestling have had a more natural transition than any other field, but Riddle’s growth in particular has been explosive. He’s gone from his first match with a major promotion in Evolve in October of 2015 to being legitimately one of the best wrestlers on the planet by July 2016.


1. AJ Styles v. Roman Reigns (WWE)
2. Matt Hardy v. Jeff Hardy (TNA)
3. Los Ingobernables de Japon v. New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW)

Honorable Mentions: Johnny Gargano (and Evolve) v. Drew Galloway (and Ethan Carter III) (Evolve), Chris Hero v. Zack Sabre Jr. (Evolve), Jinny v. Laura Di Matteo (Progress), Tetsuya Naito v. Milano Collection AT (NJPW)

AJ Styles v. Roman Reigns: What a banner year this has been for feuds, huh? At the mid-year point last year, and even the end of the year ballot, I was somewhat grasping at straws to fill the top three, whereas this year, there are a bunch of easy choices already.

This feud had the best combination of everything that makes up a great feud. The story of AJ’s moral quandary was extremely well told with the way they integrated his old friends of Japan into the story and the contrast between Styles and Reigns of Reigns as the guy who has no moral qualms about doing what needs to be done while AJ was trying to do things the right way but coming up short.

The pairing also really had great chemistry and gave everything they did a sense of importance and excitement and a real big fight feel that WWE has been lacking for most of its big matches lately. And finally, their in-ring rivalry has been tremendous with multiple awesome PPV matches and even multiple hot TV multi-man matches due to the great chemistry those two have with each other. You could make a real case that Roman Reigns is actually AJ Styles’ best opponent (although I’d probably still lean Samoa Joe), and Styles is definitely Reigns’.

Matt Hardy v. Jeff Hardy: The Final Deletion. That’s really all that needs to be said. And it continues to get better with another tremendous segment on Impact on Tuesday. The entire thing is beautifully absurd. And there’s so much depth to it beyond the absurdity which is what puts it so high on this list. It’s not just absurdist comedy, it’s a compelling story behind the veneer of absurdist comedy.

LIJ v. NJPW: You could define this as LIJ v. Chaos or Naito v. Okada, but what has really compelled me about this feud more than anything else is Tetsuya Naito’s war of words with Takaaki Kidani, the President of New Japan Pro Wrestling over how he’s been treated and especially how the "200 Million Yen Project" Kazuchika Okada has been treated. The way he’s turned NJPW on its head so that even as he cheats up a storm in every match, he’s sympathetic to the audience while Okada is seen as the Corporate Champion has been brilliant stuff.

The idea of a native stable trying to basically smash apart the image of ‘purity’ of pro wrestling in Japan is really great stuff (even if Gedo’s booking has already been chipping away at it as it is, which probably proves Naito’s point that wrestling is a farce anyway and we all should be tranquilo).


1. Jay Briscoe
2. Alexa Bliss
3. Tetsuya Naito

Honorable Mention: Matt Hardy, Samoa Joe, The Miz, Kevin Owens, Enzo Amore

Jay Briscoe: I’ve given up on Ring of Honor (ROH) this year, but I watched two Jay Briscoe promos, and they were enough to reassert the same truth of my ballot for the last 3 years or so, and it’s that Jay Briscoe is the best promo in professional wrestling and no one else is on his level. He’s the one guy in the entire world of professional wrestling that when he cuts a promo, he makes the match he’s promoting feel important and must see. After watching that promo on Strong, I wanted to get on a plane and fly to Columbus to see him whoop Roddy’s ass.

Alexa Bliss: I’ve really enjoyed Alexa Bliss pretty much from the moment she turned heel, but she’s been a revelation since the Bayley feud late last year, and has only continued to build on that this year. When she has a microphone in her hand, no matter what the situation, no matter live or backstage, she commands the screen like virtually no one else in wrestling today. Nothing phases her. When she was getting absolutely deluged with hate during the first promo opposite Bayley from the live crowd, she handled them with aplomb. The promos opposite both Carmella and Bayley in recent weeks were absolutely dynamite. In particular, I loved the pure sadistic joy she took out of rubbing it in to Bayley that she beat Bayley’s friend.

The biggest thing with Bliss’s promo style is the way she actually speaks like a human having a conversation rather than someone trying to desperately remember and recite lines, even when the pressure is on, not just in backstage promos where she can try multiple times. Her inflection and demeanor is actually reflective of the point she’s trying to make at that time which is so important, especially with the way she can change from disingenuous to contemptuous on a dime. Everything she does from the way she speaks to her facial expression even to the way she moves around (watch her during the "I didn’t write letters to myself when I was 10 years old" promo from last year) during her promos all add to her presence and the impact of her interviews.

Tetsuya Naito: Now, a lot of interviews are about inflection and delivery and style, and so not speaking Japanese, I lose that with Naito, but I just can’t bring myself to go against him here because of how incredible his interviews are on the page. They’re some of the best bits of dialogue I’ve ever seen in wrestling.

People ‘shooting’ is so overdone these days in the post-Punk Era (*cough* Heyman *cough*), but what Naito does so brilliantly is that he weaves all his worked shoot comments on Kidani, Okada, and the like into a pro wrestling style narrative that is enhanced by the worked shoot stuff in the same way Punk did with the Pipebomb. The way he manages to twist and contort words and events to fit the narrative that he wants to push is nothing short of brilliant. The way he justifies why him cheating up a storm to win the title is actually a noble, populist move because Kidani only gets mad at cheating in the big towns, but not in the backwater parts of Japan or the way he turns Okada’s contract into a rallying call that he’s an overpaid corporate backed champion when Naito is the one doing all the cheating while Okada won the title fair and square or the way he’s turned NJPW into the villain of the piece for the way they’ve treated Naito over the years (and the fan vote at Wrestle Kingdom 8 that he never, ever lets them forget).

Okada got his big crowning moment as the Ace of New Japan a mere six months ago, and Naito has turned him into a villainous afterthought through nothing but his words and his charisma. I know it seems a little silly to vote for someone who’s promos I can’t understand without translation, but other than a new Jay Briscoe promo, there’s nothing that excites me more when it comes to promos in wrestling than seeing that Chris Carlton (@reasonjp) or E. Key Oide (@e_key_oide) have transcribed a new Naito promo, so how can I not vote for him?


1. Fred Yehi
2. Zack Sabre Jr.
3. Drew Gulak


1. Kamaitachi
2. Dragon Lee
3. Will Ospreay


1. Dalton Castle
2. Lio Rush
3. Becky Lynch

Honorable Mentions: Kamaitachi, Paige

Dalton Castle: Thought maybe after Best in the World I might be able to drop Dalton Castle from the top spot, but once he again, he was defeated in a title match. Castle has been the one guy to really feel like he has true breakout potential in Ring of Honor but they just keep beating him and sticking him in nothing feuds.

Lio Rush: Wins the top prospect tournament, challenges for the title, gets signed to a contract, isn’t even booked on Best in the World. I don’t even know what to say at this point.What a mess.

Becky Lynch: Becky has been the most consistent performer in the women’s division both in and out of the ring since her call-up, but yet is losing matches in two minutes on distraction finishes to a woman who couldn’t successfully grab someone’s foot and place it on the ring ropes, and almost produced a shoot title change by accident, and is now a complete afterthought to the title feud.


1. Abstain

Abstain: I really don’t think there’s been a single consistently strong wrestling television product this year, as fun as 2016 has been in general. You have WWE Smackdown that was really interesting from January to April where it really felt like it had its own character as a show and that they were trying harder on it than before, but since then it’s gone back to a total afterthought B show because of the upcoming brand split being the focus.

You have NXT that was absolutely dreadful for the first few months of the year but has gotten back on track lately with its tag team division at the forefront being the strongest in the world right now, but also people like Bayley and Alexa Bliss showing that there’s still some life in the women’s division, and much better television matches.

You have TNA that’s been getting hot in recent weeks with Broken Matt Hardy at the forefront, but was nothing to speak of earlier in the year. Lucha Underground lost me in the early middle of season 2.

ROH TV has been a total disaster. Raw is the most dull, lifeless show on Earth. There’s just nothing that I feel confident saying was the Best Weekly Television Show thus far. NXT and especially TNA have some positive momentum and maybe the brand split helps either Smackdown or Raw, but as of now, no show has emerged.


1. Matt Riddle
2. Fred Yehi
3. Lio Rush

Matt Riddle: If he’s top 3 in Most Outstanding he definitely is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. There are few, if any, years in history where someone would have a stronger case than Matt Riddle.

Fred Yehi: On any other year, Yehi would be an absolute slam dunk winner given his breakout as a performer in Evolve this year, but unfortunately Riddle is just too tough to beat. Yehi’s style just stands out so much. He’s one of the best guys at attention to detail in modern wrestling, and like a William Regal, does so many fantastically inventive things in his quest to hurt his opponents, which is why I put him first in the Bryan Danielson award as well.

Lio Rush: Since seeing Rush for the first time during FIP’s tag team tournament, I’ve been extremely impressed. He’s been consistently very good in Evolve and Ring of Honor as well. Another excellent rookie, and one that really deserves a much better push.


1. Corey Graves
2. Tom Phillips
3. Mauro Ranallo

Corey Graves: Corey Graves was already great last year, but he keeps getting better. He legitimately might be the best heel commentator since Bobby Heenan. What’s great about Corey is he always hits the right notes with his heeling. It never feels like he actually buries anyone, like a JBL, but still makes sure to give faces hell while always getting extremely overexcited for the heels and is incredibly entertaining doing it.

Tom Phillips: Graves is so good that Tom Phillips having great chemistry with him is enough to get him into second place. Typically, a play by play man would struggle with someone who’s giving as big a performance behind the desk as Graves is, but Tom rolls with the punches extremely well and is able to give it back to Graves when he’s coming at him with his heel infatuation, which is key.

Mauro Ranallo: I like the genuine passion he shows that makes matches feel like they’re actually important and that we should care about them. Sometimes that can feel lacking with Michael Cole. On the other hand, I think he enjoys being referential a little too much and shoehorns in references too much, often at inopportune and unnatural times. But he also came across well with Bryan last night during the Cruiserweight Classic.


1. Evolve/WWN Mercury Rising 4/2
2. NJPW Invasion Attack 4/10
3. NXT Takeover: Dallas 4/1

Mercury Rising: There are only two shows this year I have sporting two four star matches and Mercury Rising does them one better with three separate four star affairs (aforementioned Hero/Sabre Jr, as well as the Days of Future Past Six Man Tag Main event and Tracy Williams vs. Matt Riddle), and a very good Yehi/Gulak affair as well. In terms of the best wrestling card of the year match for match, it’s hard to argue against Mercury Rising.

And what made it particularly special is how different those four matches were from one another while all being great or near great. You have the Hero/Sabre match which was a classic huge striker against smaller technical wrestler war, you have the Days of Future Past Six Man which was one of the most exciting uptempo spot based matches you’ll ever see, you have Riddle/Williams in a strong style striking battle, and Gulak/Yehi in the more traditional for Evolve scientific grappling style match.

If you’re going to buy one indy card this year and haven’t seen Mercury Rising, that’s the one.

Invasion Attack: While Mercury Rising is the best show purely in terms of the matches, Invasion Attack still had two excellent matches including a MOTYC with KUSHIDA taking on the debuting Will Ospreay, but more importantly signaled a major shift in direction for New Japan Pro Wrestling with a big splashy move by letting Tetsuya Naito win the IWGP Championship over Okada and cementing Los Ingobernables de Japon’s ascent to the top of the promotion. The ending with Sanada revealing himself and Naito tossing the title in the air like a meaningless prop stuck with me more than anything else this year.

I like to hope that Okada’s win at Dominion was because Naito is going to win the G1 Climax and be cemented for real at Wrestle Kingdom 11, but regardless, that result doesn’t change how great the ending to this show was.

Takeover: Dallas: A really strong top to bottom show with an exceptionally high peak in the form of Nakamura vs. Zayn. Having one of the best matches of the year, if not the best, is a great head start on a two hour special, but it was very much more than a one match show.

There was the first match between Alpha and the Revival which was excellent and a great taste of things to come, a really good, if not quite as great as I was hoping for, Bayley vs. Asuka match, and Finn Balor and Samoa Joe had the best match in their feud. Aside from Aries’ lackluster debut it was a slam dunk show.


1. Matt Riddle – The Bromission

Bromission: I don’t know if there’s necessarily an obvious choice this year, and that move looks sensational and it’s called the Bromission. I can’t go against that.


1. Chris Jericho v. Dean Ambrose [Asylum Match] (Extreme Rules 5/22)

Honorable Mention: Rebel v. Shelly Martinez (Knockouts Knockdown)

Jericho vs. Ambrose: The Rebel v. Shelly Martinez match was worse in a vacuum, but it aired on a Knockouts Knockdown show virtually no one would have watched if not for the word of mouth about that match being bad. On the other hand, Jericho vs. Ambrose was almost three times as long and aired on a PPV for the biggest wrestling promotion on the planet. You can see matches as bad as Rebel v. Shelly on many local indies every weekend. What you can’t see are matches that are as bad as the Asylum Match on a major PPV for WWE in that prominent a position on the card.


1. Ring of Honor Wrestling

ROH: That’s right folks, TNA has broken the streak! For probably a decade running, TNA had a stranglehold on this award, but Ring of Honor through sheer force of will managed to usurp the top spot. Multiple terrible PPVs, losing key pieces left and right (including Mr. ROH himself leaving with little to no fanfare), creating no stars, losing all the hot prospects to Gabe because he doesn’t make them pay for tryout camps to get a look in, and being bullied by New Japan at every turn are some of the myriad problems. It’s a total mess.

The best way to sum up what a mess Ring of Honor is right now is that when Katsuyori Shibata’s first opponent was announced to be Silas Young, my reaction was basically "Wow, they’re wasting Shibata on Silas Young? He should be wrestling… um… well…" and I struggled to come up with a name that would be appreciably better, because Ring of Honor’s roster is just that uninteresting.

For a promotion I’ve loved so much for more than a decade, the collapse has just been depressing. Mid 2000s Ring of Honor is one of my favorite runs of any promotion ever and now we’re here and I’m left wondering how it all fell apart.


1. Elias Sampson – The Drifter

Honorable Mention: Primo & Epico – The Shining Stars

Drifter/Shining Stars: I want to spotlight both here because it’s extremely difficult to decide between the two. On one hand, The Shining Stars gimmick is worse in a vacuum. There’s some universe where with more tuning the Drifter could not be an awful gimmick, whereas there’s no scenario where the Shining Stars could never have worked under any circumstances.

But on the other hand, the Shining Stars wrestled only one match on TV, whereas the Drifter kept coming week after week after week when they desperately needed that time to start getting new performers over to prepare for post-draft call-ups during that time. So it’s a toss-up. I decided to go with the Drifter in the top spot because as far as I know, Elias Sampson’s dad doesn’t have an incredibly cool tape library I’d very much like to watch on the Award Winning WWE Network.

Remember to head back and check out part one, and let us know what you think of these votes - and give us yours!

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