NXT is back tonight (Jan. 1) with their Year-End awards, recap of last year, and announcement of the Dusty Classic tournament field.
Normally, we’d give you the preview of tonight’s episodes with our questions about the show diving into what’s on the plate. But since tonight feels more like a clip show version of wrestling, instead we’re going to give you our picks for who should win the Year-End award.
Female Competitor of the Year: Rhea Ripley
Also receiving votes: Shayna Baszler, Io Shirai
Looking at only NXT prime, Ripley came on strong in the second half of the year. She waltzed on the stage with a fantastic & unique look, charisma, and the in-ring talent to be the total package. A feud with Shayna Bazler was teased, but the title match was only finally realized two weeks ago when she finally dethroned the long standing champion.
It’s clear Ripley is a special caliber superstar, suddenly the anchor to a very strong NXT women’s division.
The debut of a sizzling rookie rockstar on Wednesday night’s last August would probably have been enough to seal her this honor. But she actually opened the year as NXT UK champion (and the UK brand is represented in these awards), losing the title to Toni Storm at TakeOver: Blackpool in January. She then went into a feud with Piper Niven where there was no clear winner. Whatever she did, she was the woman to watch.
Shayna Bazler received a vote for being the villain that anchored the brand as champion the entire year, while Io Shirai earned hers by being the coolest (and always entertaining) woman on the brand.
Male Competitor of the Year: Adam Cole
This was a no doubter. This was the year of Adam Cole.
Granted he wasn’t champion all year long like Shayna Baszler pretty much was, but he ended up being the anchor of the division and perhaps the entire show.
When Tommaso Ciampa’s injury forced a sudden end to his feud with Johnny Gargano, Cole stepped in to feud with Johnny Wrestling instead. And despite not having a multi-year story like Ciampa and Gargano, Cole used his sheer charisma to make himself a strong foil to the white meat babyface that is Johnny Gargano.
As the leader of the Undisputed ERA, it’s his in-ring talent and natural charisma that steers the group who is integral to so many storylines. As champion for the better part of the year, he’s put on classics with Gargano, Matt Riddle, and Pete Dunne. That’s not to mention defeating Daniel Bryan on SmackDown.
The prophecy came true. This was the year of Adam Cole, Bay Bay.
Overall Competitor of the Year: Adam Cole
Also receiving votes: Tommaso Ciampa
In my mind, this has to come from one of the two prior competitor’s of the year. And given Adam Cole’s consistency at the top, he felt like the easy choice.
He was consistently in the main event, and really acted as the centerpiece for the promotion the entire year. NXT’s move to a live two-hour program was something they could do because they had a strong talent like Adam Cole to book around.
Tommaso Ciampa received a vote as a nod to the man who never lost his title and when he is on the screen, always forces you to take note.
Tag Team of the Year: The Undisputed ERA
Also receiving votes: The War Raiders, The Street Profits
It’s tough to argue against the ERA for this award. They were the one constant this year. War Raiders picked up a vote for never losing their titles and the Profits one for being the most charismatic teams. But those teams weren’t there all year.
Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish were the tag scene all year round. They have tons of charisma as well, in that slimy/douchey way. And they’re fantastic in the ring. This year (and years past) they are a constant in all the incredible tag team matches NXT delivers.
Match of the Year: WALTER vs. Tyler Bate (TakeOver: Cardiff)
Also receiving votes: Women’s WarGames match, Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano (TakeOver: Toronto)
NXT UK loves their epic main events and this didn’t disappoint.
The uber talented Bate had to try to chop down that massive WALTER and in this 42 minute affair, came damn close. The men meshed up perfectly with Tyler as David and WALTER as Goliath. They put together a match that had its 42 minutes feeling like an epic collision and not a chore, which a match that long risks.
It’s an entry from the UK end of things and one that deserves the nod.
Rivalry of the Year: Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano
Also receiving votes: Io Shirai vs. Candice LeRae, Shayna Baszler vs. Rhea Ripley
It almost feels like this gets the nod because there weren’t a ton of huge feuds. (Full disclosure, I voted for Shayna/Ripley). This spanned three TakeOvers and gave us some fantastic heeling from Cole, including traveling to Cleveland just to go to Johnny’s parents’ pizza place to be a major scumbag.
The matches surely delivered too. These men are both extremely talented and they had the chemistry to make magic in the ring. They also made sure to build off each match as part of the story. It may be remembered as the consolation prize when Tommaso Ciampa had to leave due to his neck injury, but if you remove the shadow of that, it was a dang good feud in its own right.
As for the others, Baszler and Ripley got my vote because it was built over four months without facing each other more than twice one on one (many months apart) and helped build Rhea into the star she ended the year as. Meanwhile, Candice’s feud with Io Shirai felt like a coming out party for both characters.
Breakout Star of the Year: Keith Lee
I mean... duh.
Keith Lee had seemed to be floundering in NXT for awhile. A combination of injuries (to himself and opponents) and a lack of creative direction seem to having the big man meandering.
That all changed when NXT moved to two hours. To utilize that time, they finally paid off the Keith Lee/Dominik Dijakovic feud that was delayed prior due to injuries. That raised Keith’s stock big time, but it was his involvement in the Survivor Series build that made him.
Keith Lee was the second to last man standing in the men’s Survivor Series match with Roman Reigns. And despite being unable to claim victory, he looked like he belonged and even got the nod of approval from the Big Dog.
A couple weeks later he pounced Adam Cole into the third row, a moment viral on wrestling Twitter.
Future Star of the Year: Dakota Kai
Also receiving votes: Xia Li, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
It almost feels unfair to put Dakota in this category since she’s been around NXT for a bit longer than all the others on this list. But she’s on the list and makes the most sense.
She’s been great as a heel so far, owning that character with her promos and her in-ring actions. Plus, she has a big feud headed her way against Tegan Nox. Given her positioning now, she’s poised to breakout in 2020.
As for the others, “Swerve” Scott has loads of potential, flashy in the ring with a strong character. Meanwhile, Xia seems on the verge of putting it all together, and is super-marketable both worldwide and in a key market.
TakeOver of the Year: Tie between WarGames and TakeOver: New York
WarGames made the list by the strength of the the featured matches with both WarGames matches delivering. Meanwhile, New York was a great card from top to bottom with gems like Matt Riddle vs. Velveteen Dream and ended with Johnny Gargano finally claiming the NXT title after such a long journey.
Those are our picks. You can let us know yours below and tune into NXT tonight at 8 ET PM on USA to see who the masses selected.