Today completes my bi-annual look at The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards with analysis of the rest of the categories including Most Outstanding Wrestler, Best on Interviews and more (part one is here).
Most Outstanding Wrestler
1. Hiromu Takahashi
2. AJ Styles
3. Pete Dunne
Honorable Mentions: Matt Riddle, Travis Banks, Tyler Bate, Walter, Roman Reigns, Io Shirai, KUSHIDA, Keith Lee
Takahashi: The main issue I have with NJPW generally speaking is that I feel like they rely on overlong 'epics' that feature a lot of time-killing and padding, with admittedly incredibly hot back ends, rather than tight, focused work throughout that still has a hot back end. In the past, the guy who always cut through that was Katsuyori Shibata, my favorite wrestler in modern era New Japan. Since his terrible injury, I was worried that that tight violent style would be gone from New Japan, but thankfully I was gifted with a new violent maximizer of minutes in the form of Hiromu Takahashi and have loved almost every second of his work this year.
It is borderline impossible to have a bad match with this guy right now as long as you work within his formula. Every Takahashi match feels like it kicks into gear the second the bell rings and it's so refreshing when laid against the rest of the NJPW upper card. Beyond his pace, he's also an icon of violence and intensity. There's not a single thing that Takahashi does that doesn't look painful and vicious, even occasionally to himself, such as the absurd top rope senton to the floor. Another thing that's great about Takahashi is that he's a high spot wrestler that doesn't ever fall into the pejorative 'spotfest' trap where it's just trading spots and resting with none of them resonating or feeling like they mean something. He's fantastic at pacing the spots and making them feel important and like they matter. They aren't done to look pretty, they're done to inflict damage on his opponents and often with a real cost to himself. His biggest and most memorable regular spot, the sunset flip powerbomb to the floor, is the best example of this. It's a spot that he manages to utilize every match and yet it always feels important and dangerous and not someone getting their shit in. The struggle to get it can be a dramatic highpoint of his matches, even though you know it's coming, because it's such an absurdly violent looking spot and everyone treats it as such.
An absolutely outstanding wrestler. It's honestly hard to put into words how great he is at what he does. He has single-handedly reinvigorated my interest in NJPW, which really waned last year post AJ/Ibushi/Nakamura.
Styles: One of the greatest in-ring wrestlers of all time, and seems to get better with age. He had the instant classic with Cena at the Royal Rumble, one of the best multi-man performances ever in the Elimination Chamber, and had one of the best WrestleMania opening matches with Shane McMahon of all people. That's in addition to his consistently strong television matches every time he has a singles match and his TLC match with Ambrose because of the nature of Dave's calendar.
Dunne: Dunne is my favorite kind of British wrestler. Rather than the Johnny Saint style World of Sport pastiche popular these days with guys like Zack Sabre Jr., he feels much more of a piece with the lineage of Terry Rudge and William Regal mixing violence, technical precision, and attention to detail into a crisp and brutal package. A natural heel, Dunne is great at grinding down his opponents and making sure every little thing he does is the most damaging it can be.
When it comes to output, Dunne has both a high peak and high consistency. His two WWE UK Championship matches against Tyler Bate in the finals of the tournament and Takeover: Chicago are in my top five for the year, but he also has a bunch of other strong matches from Progress, the semifinal in the WWEUKCT against Mark Andrews, and bonus strong TV matches like the one with Seven from the WWE UK special and the NXT match with Martin Stone.
Tag Team of the Year
1. South Pacific Power Trip
3. The Usos
Honorable Mentions: Sheamus & Cesaro, Ringkampf, The Revival
SPPT: What makes the South Pacific Power Trip such a special team is their diversity in performance. The Midnight Express were all-time heels. The Rock 'n' Roll Express were all-time babyfaces. South Pacific Power Trip are great faces and they're great heels. That's something rarely ever seen, even by great tag teams. And it's not a minor difference between those two alignments in terms of how they wrestle matches.
As heels, they rely more on cheating, cheap shots, comedy, and the third member of the Power Trip and TK's better half, Dahlia Black. But on the other hand, once they shifted face, then the focus became on TK Cooper being an excellent face in peril and Travis Banks becoming one of the best hot tags in the business, and excelled with that alignment as well. To wrestle such stylistically different matches but produce greatness both ways is why they're the best tag team on the planet today with a bullet.
DIY: Before the callous actions of the coward Tommaso Ciampa, DIY were the best babyface tag team we've seen in wrestling in quite some time. The Alpha/Revival series was great, but DIY/Revival was on a completely different level of greatness, and shows how exceptional Johnny Wrestling was at playing a face in peril and Tommy Entertainment was at hot tags.
DIY continued to put in consistently outstanding performances this year against The Revival on TV and AOP on multiple occasions on Takeovers, as well as the triple threat tag against both tag teams.
The Usos: There isn't really an easy third choice yet, as The Revival only really wrestled four total matches this year, and Cesaro and Sheamus and Ringkampf don't have huge resumes either. The Usos fall into this as well, with basically the tag title change with Alpha, the very good match with New Day at MITB, and the fun comedy match with Breezango, so I'm giving them the edge because of their excellent character work. Since turning heel, these two have become among the most enjoyable promo guys in WWE, which I would have never expected a couple years ago.
Best on Interviews
1. The Miz
2. Trent Seven
3. Alexa Bliss
Honorable Mentions: Samoa Joe, Becky Lynch
The Miz: I don't anticipate voting for anyone except Miz in this category anytime soon. Nothing has changed from last year. He still cuts a great promo any time a microphone is in his hand and is still one of the only heels that's actually seeking heat from the audience. Any promotion on the planet could use a million Mizs. A guy who can get faces over with his mouth and who can deliver an entertaining longform promo every single week to kill 20 minutes of those long three hour Raws in an entertaining fashion.
Trent Seven: Every great heel stable needs the one guy who's a bigger asshole than everyone else to make sure the crowd doesn't turn sympathetic towards the inevitably popular leader. The Horsemen had Tully Blanchard, Regression had Paul Robinson, and British Strong Style has Trent Seven.
Seven has absolutely embraced his role as the Tully of British Strong Style, being so thoroughly smug and obnoxious in every promo, relishing his "long term contract with World Wrestling Entertainment" and holding all his newfound wealth and prestige over everyone. The complete and utter joy in the crowd during the entire rest of the tournament when Trent ran his mouth just a bit too long with Matt Riddle and got caught immediately as the match began with a knee strike, losing the main event of day one in six (!) seconds was palpable. And it only works as well as it did because Trent has used his gift of gab to become so thoroughly hated by the Progress faithful that this brutally embarrassing loss was even more cathartic than Pete losing his championship would be.
Alexa Bliss: Alexa's biggest strength is presence and poise. She does not come off like someone who has been on the main roster for 11 months, she comes off like she's been on the main roster for 11 years. Another thing I love about Bliss is that she's a natural speaker. She feels reminiscent of someone like CM Punk where she speaks like a human being rather than someone giving a professional wrestling promo. Her line deliveries are off the charts good.
1. Bill Goldberg
2. Tetsuya Naito
3. Hiromu Takahashi
Honorable Mentions: Matt Riddle, Keith Lee
Goldberg: Even turning 50, Goldberg’s all-time level physical charisma remains. The fact that this run saw a 50-year-old man taking it to a former UFC heavyweight champion still in his physical prime and making it believable sums up how much physical charisma this guy has. You can book someone to go undefeated. That’s one thing. To make people believe that in kayfabe you are that unbeatable is a lot more difficult. Asuka can do it, but Asuka is also a ridiculously crisper and more technically sound female wrestler than WWE has ever employed. That undeniable physical skill edge is why she makes it believable. Goldberg can barely do five moves. Still makes it equally believable. That’s all charisma. It’s untouchable, and to still have it at 50 is incredible.
Naito: The idea of a villain becoming as incredibly popular in Japan as Naito has is borderline unbelievable. Japan is generally a country less excited to go against the script than the old US of A but when it comes to Naito, even Osaka could barely keep up the ruse of booing him for an entire match, and he’s feuded with that city for years, since his "undeserved" G1 win. He truly embodies the spirit of being completely and totally ungovernable. He absolutely inhabits and makes you believe the character. He sucks you in. In some ways, he’s the Japanese Steve Austin, in others the Japanese CM Punk.
Takahashi: I thought Naito was the guy who popped most in NJPW from a charisma standpoint, but then this year we met Hiromu Takahashi, and honestly, he might even beat out Naito. Takahashi is very reminiscent of Nakamura in terms of his weird and captivating charisma making all his peculiar affectations like his love of "Mr. Belt" and his cat persona (and actual stuffed cat Darryl) resonate in a way they probably shouldn’t on paper. He explodes off the screen immediately.
Best Flying Wrestler
1. Hiromu Takahashi
2. Mustafa Ali
Takahashi: Takahashi feels like the spiritual successor to one of my all-time favorites, 2 Cold Scorpio, as a flying wrestler. His stuff isn’t as pretty as a Will Ospreay or Ricochet type, but his highspots look like they absolutely kill you and I vastly prefer that as a priority compared to smooth and pretty high spots.
Ali: What I really like about Ali as a flier is that he’s great at timing. He really knows when in a match to go for the big home runs to make them mean the most. He’s not flying constantly, because flying in kayfabe should be high risk, so he only uses those types of moves when he has to. Really, he should not be the target of Drew Gulak’s ire. He has respect for the danger of high-flying wrestling! He does what he needs to do to win.
Ricochet: I’ve really enjoyed Ricochet’s output this year more than I have in a while. Thought he was great against Keith Lee, great against Riddle, and great against Hiromu multiple times. While I may prefer Takahashi and Ali’s approach to being a flying wrestler, there’s no question that Ricochet is one of the most impressive athletes we’ve ever seen in wrestling. The effortlessness to Ricochet doing complex offense is always impressive. Everything is so smooth and so polished, and he doesn’t have the bothersome affectations of Will Ospreay.
1. Randy Orton
2. Bray Wyatt
3. Seth Rollins
Note: For clarity after a couple posts yesterday, Most Overrated/Underrated is about push. It is better termed Most Overpushed/Underpushed.
Randy Orton: For all the complaining we’ve seen about Jinder Mahal winning the title, it's a much bigger failing on WWE's end to have had Randy Orton not only hold the title in 2017, but win the Royal Rumble to boot. The guy hasn't been a drawing act since the McMahons feud and that was about a decade ago at this point. At least Jinder’s push is trying to make someone new. He has also main evented almost every SD PPV this year and doesn’t have a single match I’d give four stars.
Bray Wyatt: I fully understand he doesn't win a ton generally, but he also did hold the WWE championship this year and defend it in my Worst Match of the Year at WrestleMania, had the godawful House of Horrors match where he pinned SD's champion and is consistently a major part of the narrative for reasons beyond my comprehension given any numbers we ever get on his business impacts, or his in-ring skill.
Seth Rollins: Anticipate that this one might get me some flak, but I honestly think he’s tough to argue with here. Aside from the one Reigns match, he never loses clean, he’s still the only person on the roster to ever beat Samoa Joe, he beat Triple H at WrestleMania with a bum leg, and heck, he’s the first full-time star to be on the 2K cover since CM Punk and yet he still comes off like a poor man’s Finn Balor at the best of times (and Finn isn’t even the highest of bars, although he’s grown on me lately). His presentation is comparable to an AJ Styles (more protected post Mania 33, even) or Roman Reigns in terms of strong booking, and yet he doesn’t come off like one fifth of the star that they do. Roman Reigns/Samoa Joe with no story on a random Raw came off like a bigger match than Samoa Joe/Seth Rollins on a PPV after Samoa Joe legitimately put Rollins on the shelf. Also had a poor performance in the ring at WrestleMania (not to take away from Triple H’s equally poor performance) where they built the match around his knee injury and it was a brawl, and yet still all he could do for his offensive run was throw a bunch of high spots.
Best Weekly TV Show
1. WWE Monday Night Raw
2. WWE NXT
3. WWE Smackdown
Honorable Mention: WWE Talking Smack
WWE Monday Night Raw: Was very strongly considering voting G.L.O.W. number one after the farce that was Dave not allowing the Cruiserweight Classic to be eligible last year and the inconsistency of everything else. But since I suppose it’s not actually a wrestling show, I guess I’ll have to settle for the best of an inconsistent crop.
Raw actually had the better top to bottom build to WrestleMania than Smackdown, but it's still not always a great show week to week. It's too long, so there are going to be weaknesses.
With that being said, these past few weeks since Extreme Rules in particular have been excellent. Raw at the moment feels like a borderline complete show because of the strong work on the undercard with stuff like the Titus Brand and the really well-built and fresh Goldust and R-Truth feud in addition to the fantastic Big Lads Wrestling stuff at the top with Joe/Lesnar/Reigns/Strowman. A three-hour show is easier to get through when you actually pay attention to the stuff lower on the card. Even the women’s division had a good night last night, and that’s been a massive weak spot for a while. If Sasha and Alexa can get that on track, and they keep up the momentum on the rest of the show, Raw could be primed for a Fall 2016 SD like hot run. They certainly have the talent for it.
WWE NXT: If we were only judging post-WrestleMania, NXT would be in the top spot, but unfortunately it started the year very weak. NXT since Mania has been excellent, and really feels like old NXT again. The Roderick Strong vignettes and Strong/Roode feud, the Andrade Almas arc, The Iconic Duo, the Asuka/Ember storyline, the development of Nikki Cross, it really feels like NXT is in a groove again in terms of characters and storytelling, and I think if things keep going like they are now, NXT will be in pole position by the end of the year, especially given its absolutely outstanding roster of talent.
WWE Smackdown: Nena/Mizanins was incredible in the Winter/early Spring before WrestleMania, and the tag division has been excellent since WrestleMania, but the rest of the show has been way down from its awesome peak in the fall of 2016 with Miz/Ziggler, Styles/Ambrose/Ellsworth, Cena/Ambrose/Styles, the rise of SlateRhyno, Bliss/Lynch, Carmella/Nikki, Orton/Wyatt/Harper, and the heel Usos being some of the best wrestling television of the modern era.
WWE Talking Smack: Given that there isn’t a ton of distance between the four right now, figure I should chime in on this as well. Talking Smack without Daniel Bryan really doesn't feel like Talking Smack, and he's been gone for much of the year thus far. Shane comes across borderline catatonic on the show most of the time and really brings the tone down from what was once the most fun thing WWE produced. That said, Bryan’s return completely and totally reinvigorated the show this past week.
Pro Wrestling Match of the Year
1. John Cena v. AJ Styles (Royal Rumble)
2. Katsuyori Shibata v. Kazuchika Okada (Sakura Genesis)
3. Pete Dunne v. Tyler Bate (Takeover: Chicago)
Honorable Mentions: Kenny Omega v. Kazuchika Okada (Wrestle Kingdom 11), Pete Dunne v. Tyler Bate (WWE UK Championship Tournament – Day 2), Chip Day v. Trevor Lee (CWF Kernodle Cup Tournament Finals)
Cena v. Styles: Cena's performance in this match was all-time great. The story in the build was that AJ Styles had been the one guy that has ever really had Cena's number. He beat him in three straight PPV matches, which is something no one has ever done against Cena ever. Cena was going to need to be the best possible version of Cena to defeat the man who would have been king, and you physically saw him be that in the match. One of the biggest knocks historically on Cena's performance is his sloppiness and lacking execution. And then you have this match, where he's hitting picture perfect Code Reds and you get the feeling that this genuinely is the best possible Cena. Even his traditional points of weaknesses were strengths in this match. Something that is very difficult to do in wrestling is to sell why results are different when the opponents are the same, and Cena did it effortlessly here. He made you believe that he was the best version of himself and that's why he was finally able to conquer his toughest test yet.
Beyond Cena’s performance, this felt like a classic world title match in terms of atmosphere with two guys who genuinely came across like the two best guys going mano y mano to determine who was going to become the world champion. Modern WWE crowds are hard to get on their feet for matches, and these two accomplished it in spades. It’s rare for a WWE match to have an atmosphere like this match had because both guys project star power and credibility in spades. The way they played how well they know each other, and their own characters and personalities in the match made this really special. This is the kind of classic world title match we don’t see enough, especially in WWE. When you talk about big fight feel, this absolutely had it.
Shibata v. Okada: I really have no idea how to even look at this match. On the one hand, that damned headbutt. I don’t really even want to praise this match because of it. I would trade this match in a second for him not having done that spot ever. But on the other hand, that match is easily NJPW’s best match this year and it isn’t even close. It’s one of their best matches ever. For me, it's what lots of other folks feel like the Omega/Okada matches are. And it’s an all-time great performance by Shibata, and that absolutely asinine headbutt spot has nothing to do with what made it all-time great. The real question I wrestle with is whether praising this match is right, because it’s giving credit where it’s due to Shibata for being legendarily great in it, or wrong because it’s praising New Japan’s reckless style that they need to move away from (especially unlikely after they made the decision to rebroadcast a match where Shibata’s career probably ended on their AXS show, which feels tacky as hell). For the sake of the exercise, I’ll talk about why the match is incredible, but I’m really not sure how I’ll approach it in the actual year end voting.
I cannot say enough good things about the match itself. I also think the critiques I've seen of the match are thoroughly, thoroughly unfounded in terms of the storytelling and Okada’s presentation. I would not say that Okada beat Shibata at his own game at all. It’s a total misread of the match. The way Okada gained advantages are the way he would gain advantages against Shibata. Either outright bending the rules, or more commonly, creating separation. It was clear that whenever they were in close quarters, Shibata had the advantage, but whenever Shibata let him out of his control, that is when Okada took advantage and hit his high impact moves. There’s a great spot where Okada tries to play tough guy and sits cross legged for Shibata to also sit cross legged and strike each other, and Shibata definitively has the advantage, but once he lets Okada get to his feet it shifts and Okada takes back control. If he kept him controlled, he couldn’t lose, but he gave Okada those little edges, so Okada won.
Additionally, the opening act was the best opening act in these epic NJ matches by a mile, because Shibata is better at it than anyone else. The matwork actually felt fresh and interesting, rather than perfunctory, and the bits of armwork throughout the match had a big purpose for the great spot where Shibata basically shrugs off a Rainmaker, because he had damaged Okada’s arm just enough that it didn’t have nearly the full impact the first time. It felt completely different than that one WK when Tana randomly kicked out of the Rainmaker after their whole rivalry was built on it only being defeated by working Okada’s Rainmakerin’ arm. I also loved the spot where Okada does his back the opponent into the ropes and then tease the punch spot, but knowing Shibata would smack the crap out of him if he did, like he did the previous times they faced off, instead Okada doesn’t break clean at all and starts laying into Shibata and the match really kicks into the second gear.
It was an absolutely otherworldly performance by Shibata (Okada was actually great here too, his subtle heeling in particular that really got everyone even more behind Shibata), and that incredibly ill-advised headbutt means we won’t get to see those otherworldly performances anymore.
Dunne v. Bate: This match was exceptional in every way. It had the feel of a classic world title match, but it was only a little over fifteen minutes. To be able to get the depth and resonance that these two did in that short of a time is a massive achievement.
There’s a mindset these days, judging by the way Meltzer’s ratings have gone, that more is always better, but these two showed why that really isn’t the case, and wrestling can be so much better if instead of going long, you make everything you do count. These two are wise beyond their years as wrestlers, especially Bate who’s only 20 years old, and it shows in the way they maximized their minutes in this one.
The atmosphere for this was off the charts, with the always engaged Takeover crowd, and the way they built to the big moments and the callbacks to their last match was exceptional. An awesome match in every facet from storytelling and character to timing and execution on all the big spots. Feels like the type of match that any sort of fan would love.
Worst Television Announcer
1. Josh Matthews
2. David Otunga
3. Percy Watson
Matthews: I do understand that him being terrible is kind of the point at this stage, but man does he make Impact difficult to watch regardless of whether that’s the story they’re trying to tell. On the plus side, story is working, I suppose!
Watson: I have absolutely no idea why WWE thought he would be a good potential commentator, but they are extremely wrong about that. An active drag on NXT commentary, which used to be one of its strongest suits with Graves and Phillips. I do have hope for Watson with Ranallo, because Ranallo is more assertive than Phillips (which is why Phillips and Graves are such a fantastic duo, because Graves adds a ton, so Phillips being a little more passive allows Graves to shine, in addition to their chemistry and banter), so can ideally step on his commentary a bit and make him easier to tune out.
Otunga: Otunga adds absolutely nothing. He’s never insightful, he doesn’t have good chemistry with any of his partners, I genuinely have no idea what he’s doing there. Even Saxton at his worst occasionally had something useful to say, Otunga gives us nothing. I generally find Otunga easier to tune out than Watson, which gives Watson the edge.
Best Major Wrestling Show
1. WWE WrestleMania 33
2. Progress Chapter 45: Galvanize
3. NJPW Dominion
Honorable Mentions: NXT Takeover: Chicago, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom
WrestleMania: There's no question that this show doesn't have the workrate top to bottom of something like Galvanize or Dominion and Wrestle Kingdom, but it feels like the best possible version of WrestleMania and I'm someone that loves WWE at its best. It was a variety show that had emotional highs and lows, had an over the top spectacle feeling, culminated storylines in impactful fashion, had something for everyone, and felt like a fitting season finale for the year in professional wrestling, but with some teases of the future to come. This was WWE really showing what it is capable of for the first WrestleMania in years. Somber, moving moments like Undertaker's retirement were beautifully done and felt important and fitting for a man of his stature within WWE's long history. On the other hand, you had pure joy as a building of 77,000 people rose as one to scream their lungs out for the return of the Hardy Boys, coming home to WWE for the first time in years and getting one of the biggest pops I can recall in wrestling. You had a great moment for fans of Total Divas (or fans of Nikki in general) with Nikki Bella's long journey back from career threatening injury to the wrestling ring culminating in an opportunity to finally team up with the love of her life and the storybook ending with Cena proposing and them both largely riding off into the sunset.
In terms of the in-ring wrestling, it's a show where the two best matches featured Bill Goldberg and Shane McMahon, which is a crazy thing to think about it, but those two old boys delivered a hell of a pair of matches facing off against two of the best in the business in AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar vs. Goldberg is one of the great sprint matches in the history of professional wrestling. It was almost video game wrestling, but not in a pejorative sense for once, with the only two wrestlers ever where it would fit together as beautifully as it did there. I think Brock Lesnar and Goldberg are the only two wrestlers where a five-minute match featuring sixteen signature moves would make sense. And beyond that, there is something so incredible about the deciding spot in a match featuring that many high impact moves in that short a span being a basic leapfrog, which is still my favorite spot this year.
And even better than that match was the instant classic WrestleMania opener between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon. I was so excited for this match going into Mania, until that final week of television where we were told it was not in fact going to be a couple of crazy dads having a wild and out of control brawl all about the arena and was going to be a non-stipulation proper wrestling match, but it turned out they didn't even need the stipulations to put on a thriller featuring surprisingly strong technical wrestling (including a 450 caught into a triangle by Shane!) and still finding time for the high spots late. And you have to respect a 46-year-old non-wrestler doing a Shooting Star Press at WrestleMania. AJ's performance, as is basically always the case, was incredible, lifting Shane up to a match I don't think anyone thought he was capable of.
I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the disaster that was Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton, but it was a seven-hour show, and sometimes a seven-hour show needs weird projected bugs in the ring to pop Vince.
Galvanize: This is about as close as a wrestling show is going to get to the concept of all killer, no filler. Galvanize was an eight match, two and a half hour show with four legitimately great matches and one nearly great match besides, where the other three overachieved and were at least good. This is what I love to see when judging the best shows. Peaks are definitely important, but the peak matches are evaluated in their own way when looking at the best matches of the year. When it comes to a show, I want to look at how good the card was top to bottom, and Galvanize was the perfect card for that.
First of all, you had the main event, a violent deathmatch style brawl with Jimmy Havoc against Pete Dunne. It felt like it meshed the two icons of Progress's styles extremely well. Then you had possibly my favorite ever Will Ospreay performance against Mark Andrews. Since returning to Progress and turning heel, his character spun into a sort of emotionless hitman persona, similar to someone like Low-Ki. This positioned him as a clear heel, which he's better at then playing face, and the key to that emotionless point is that it felt like it lost all of the Ospreay affectations that bother me like the overwrought screaming or the cursing to try and be tough. Ospreay as a silent killer let his physical gifts, of which they are vast, really speak for themselves in a way they often can't because of the rest of his performance.
Then you had the absolute belter discussed a bit above in most improved between Jinny and Nixon Newell, by the far the best women's match in Progress history, and one of the best women's matches of this year. Tight, smooth, violent, and full of vibrant characterization with Jinny playing the smug and arrogant villain and Newell playing the lovable scrappy underdog. Finally, and the fact that I'm mentioning this match last really shows how strong this show is, you had the South Pacific Power Trip facing off against the British Strong Style team of Trent Seven and Tyler Bate in yet another SPPT barnstormer. This felt like the first match where they were clearly faces and they excelled in the role immediately. They still managed to feature a great Dahlia Black spot, but was more of the TK face in peril and Travis as the hot tag that would define their short face run. And beyond those four great matches, you also had a really good match with the super talented Ringkampf getting the best possible out of the normally bland Hunter Brothers. An awesome card.
Dominion: It's hard to beat Dominion when it comes to the high end. The trifecta of Omega/Okada, Takahashi/KUSHIDA, and Naito/Tanahashi are all in my top 25 matches of the year, and while I am probably never going to love the New Japan undercard, I do think it was stronger than Wrestle Kingdom which had some very big valleys amidst the peaks. Having things like the Junior Tag Title match feeling different from their usual fare is the kind of thing that makes the show fly by when normally with an NJPW show I just want to get to the singles title matches.
Worst Feud of the Year
1. Bray Wyatt v. Randy Orton
Honorable Mention: Alexa Bliss v. Bayley
Wyatt v. Orton: I definitely did not anticipate voting for this in February, but after Randy burned down Bray's cabin, and more importantly, Luke Harper was cut out of the feud, it completely fell off a cliff. From that point forward, it went back to the usual Bray Wyatt hokey supernatural nonsense rather than a more psychological and understated feud, and produced back to back Worst Match of the Year candidates at WrestleMania 33 and Payback.
Worst Promotion of the Year
1. Ring of Honor Wrestling
ROH: Feels like the issues from last year have started to become even more stark. New Japan is now officially running stateside with the guys ROH got over to the United States audience, including some of their own former performers, and there was a huge talent exodus this year seeing ROH lose Kyle O’Reilly, Donovan Dijak, Bobby Fish, Keith Lee, Adam Cole, and Lio Rush. The creative this year has been incredibly uninspired with no hot angles, few highly acclaimed matches, and a continuing struggle to stay relevant in this changing wrestling landscape. Honestly, putting the belt on Cody might be the best decision they’ve made this year since it might at least get them some much needed buzz.
1. Andrade Almas - Ungovernable party animal
Honorable Mentions: Hiromu Takahashi, Nikki Cross
Almas: Almas' initial rollout was almost as bad as it could get. He was debuting as this potential big Latino babyface star WWE has been desperately looking for, but he ended up getting outshined by Tye Dillinger of all people. NXT did the smart thing and turned him heel as a response to this, but it was only a paint by numbers heel gimmick at the start, but then things changed this year. He went on a major losing streak, but it was put down to his love of the ladies, partying, alcohol, and being tranquilo at all times and this is when he really started to pop. His lackadaisical attitude about everything has been excellent, and with the introduction of Thea Trinidad as a means to get him back on the path to victories, this character has more room to get better and become even more fully formed.
1. Kevin Owens – The New Face of America
Owens: I don’t think there’s a blatantly horrendous gimmick this year that I can think of (I suppose Lana’s sexy lamp chair dancer is pretty terrible, but I think it’s giving her too much credit to even say she currently has a gimmick), but what kills me about this Owens gimmick is that they have such a talented and versatile performer playing a generic foreign heel. It’s so stale and lifeless, whereas in both of his appearances on Talking Smack, he was tremendous, playing closer to his NXT character of the chilling prizefighter with a massive chip on his shoulder and driven solely by the desire to provide for his family at any means necessary. He’s Walter White. Or at least he should be. That guy could be a top of the card star. The guy we see during the weekly television show would be a solid midcard act in 1986.
Note: I left out Rookie of the Year, because it’s one category I feel unqualified to discuss. I like to watch as much wrestling as humanly possible from as many different promotions as I can, but the NJPW Young Lions and other Japanese feds rookies are a blind spot for me this year, and it seems like those are the most likely to have strong rookie performers. Aside from Hana Kimura of Stardom and Austin Theory of Evolve, I really don’t have a feel for the rookies this year. There are no Riddles or Rushes or Yehis or Baszlers this time around. Any suggestions on Lions or other rookies worth looking at would be very welcome in the comments.
Check out part one (it’s here!), and let us know what you think of these votes - and give us yours!