NXT returns tonight (Dec. 30) from the Capitol Wrestling Center (CWC) in Orlando Florida. They are building towards New Year’s Evil on Jan. 6 next week.
They don’t have much advertised for tonight’s card. There are a couple good matches booked, such as a North American title rematch between Johnny Gargano & Leon Ruff and a Pete Dunne/Roderick Strong collision. But given it’s the last of the year, a lot of it is the reveal of their Year-End Awards.
So we gathered our NXT crew to weigh in on each of the categories (the full list of nominees is here). I’ll be joined by our original NXT guy Sean Rueter, cSs’ social media maven Stella Cheeks, and Keith Lee superfan Henry T. Casey.
Breakout Star of the Year: Shotzi Blackheart
Also receiving votes: Raquel González, Pat McAfee
Shotzi had herself quite the year. She went from background talent to one of the stars of the women’s division. With a unique personality and a devil may care style in the ring, she became a major player, even anchoring one of the women’s WarGames teams. Sean sums up my feelings on her very well when he said she went from someone he “didn’t get” to one of his favorites. Her entire presentation could take some getting used to, but she’s the real deal.
After a strong 2020, Shotzi is posed to have a killer 2021 where women’s gold is certainly a possibility. If Io Shirai or Rhea Ripley get called up in the next year, it’ll be Blackheart who easily fills that void.
Raquel González received a vote given how she debuted early in year as a bodyguard but has become a major badass and rising star. Pat McAfee got some love for showing how seamlessly he took to this business.
Rivalry of the Year: Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee
It’s almost amazing that a celebrity angle is even considered for this award, but it won it unanimously for us.
If they just had their initial match at TakeOver 30, it probably wouldn’t have taken this award. But McAfee rebounded from his loss to form a villain super team to take out all of Undisputed ERA, something no one has done before. His Kings of NXT ran roughshod over the promotion until Cole and his guys came back to make things right. That’s a deep feud that was so explosive that all of NXT was caught in its wake.
This is also our way to acknowledge how damn good McAfee is. His ability to sell a program with promos alone, something that some full time talent do as effectively as Pat Mac, is pretty incredible. He has an innate feel for this business..
Tag Team of the Year: Breezango
Also receiving votes: Imperium, Undisputed ERA
We’ll be honest. This was all over the place because there was no obvious choice here.
Breezango ended up getting the fan favorite nod. The prettiest boys may not have been the longest reigning champs in 2020, that belongs to Imperium hence the vote they received. They may not be as classically dominant, such as ERA. But Fandango opted to forgo possibly Tommy John surgery to rehab and come back so he and Tyler Breeze could win their first gold in all of WWE/NXT.
Their clowning of Imperium prior to enduring hell to beat the tough team of Fabian Aichner & Marcel Barthel earns them the nod here.
Male Competitor of the Year: No Consensus
Finn Bálor, Keith Lee, Adam Cole, & Johnny Gargano all received a vote
As you can see, this was a tough one for us.
I chose Finn Bálor. He won the title this summer after Karrion Kross got hurt and needed to relinquish it. He rarely lost prior. I can imagine losing over a month of time after his TakeOver 31 match with Kyle O’Reilly could have hurt him with the other voters, but he picked up the baton when it was really needed and did a great job with it.
Stella chose Keith Lee, who was the big star for half the year. He was the man who finally dethroned Adam Cole at The Great American Bash. And if it weren’t for a very short title reign and call up, he’d probably have won this fairly easily.
Henry chose Adam Cole, who was champion for the first half of the year. He was also impressed with Cole working both alignments and doing both at a high caliber.
Sean chose Johnny Gargano because he won his epic feud with Tommaso Ciampa, and more importantly, found a heel character that revitalized the man. Johnny went from great wrestler with a pretty bland personality to one of the most entertaining guys in the roster outside of the ring. Some of his backstage interviews were must see viewing.
We asked Claire to help break this tie, but she just said Timothy Thatcher even though he wasn’t even on the list.
Female Competitor of the Year: Io Shirai
While the males divided us, we were all in agreement that Io Shirai is no doubt the Female Competitor of the Year.
She won the title at TakeOver: In Your House and has successfully defended it in multiple feuds. She’s one of the best there is inside that ring, making her matches must see viewing no matter who the opponent. She’s had bangers with Shotzi Blackheart, Candice LeRae, and Rhea Ripley.
Io is the prototype for a babyface champ. Someone who can continue to elevate other members of the division even while successfully defending the gold so she can do it again later.
Event of the Year: Halloween Havoc
Also receiving votes: TakeOver Portland
Halloween Havoc was the return of a classic and beloved WCW pay-per-view. But it didn’t succeed just because of nostalgia. It succeeded because it was a killer show, with a sharp card headlined by a very fun ladder match. This show also featured the return of Pete Dunne (and his alignment with the Kings of NXT) and a strong Rhea Ripley vs. Raquel González match.
They nailed the look of it as well. The set was completely decked with plenty of spooky themed paraphernalia that wrestlers had to fight through all night. And to top it off, they even had a Haunted House or Terrors match to really drive the theme home.
Future Star of the Year: Tie between Leon Ruff & Indi Hartwell
Leon Ruff makes sense. He spent the last couple months going from enhancement talent to major player in the North American title scene. He’s still an ultimate underdog, but that’s fine. Those characters are needed in wrestling. Ruff was quickly able to cut a couple promos that helped convince us take him seriously. And he’s found ways to beat stars like Johnny Gargano (who he’ll try to win the NA title back from tonight) and Timothy Thatcher. He can go in the ring and proved capable on the mic, setting him up for the possibility of big things.
Sean and I picked a member of the Gargano family in Indi Hartwell, probably more for the character work she’s putting in outside the ring than the matches she’s having inside them. Johnny Gargano is killing it as his delusional heel and Hartwell is alongside that playing off him. Indi complements the Gargano family videos, doesn’t break when Gargano is being ridiculous, and has the comedic timing to keep up. She could use some polish in the ring, but working alongside one of the best out there in Candice LeRae should surely help.
Match of the Year: Kyle O’Reilly vs. Finn Bálor (TakeOver 31)
Also receiving votes: WALTER vs. Dragunov, Women’s WarGames
O’Reilly vs. Bálor was a war. With the highest stakes, this was the chance for Kyle to finally show everyone why he’s not just a tag guy. He took that opportunity and ran with it. This match was hard hitting (probably a bit too hard hitting given Finn missed time with a broken jaw afterwards) and a strong mix of styles. It was so good that they booked the anticipated rematch for New Year’s Evil.
This is the category that having few NXT UK fans was going to hurt. And I’m sure there will be some poo-pooing at us for not picking the UK Title match. In fact, I actually went and sought out that match prior to voting to be fair to it. And I was the one who gave it the vote, though I’ll be honest, that was more because I felt it should be represented. If someone else had already voted for it, I’d probably gone with Kyle vs. Finn instead.
Henry, who pays the closest attention to NXT UK compared to the rest of us, didn’t feel WALTER vs. Drgaunov was the Match of the Year. His reasoning was that “they’ve both done better and more interestingly and not in a vacuum. KOR/Balor was the better version of that match.” I felt it was a really good match. There’s no doubt about that. But having less attachment to those guys than I do O’Reilly & Bálor hurt.
That’s who we’ve got for our Year-End Awards. You can let us know who you’ve got below.