Hey everybody, I’m back to do my bi-annual look at the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards for 2016. This time it will be in three parts because rather than just put my picks out there, I wanted to try and also give a proper look to the also-rans in some categories, break down some changes I’ve made from where I was at in the mid-year if they’re substantial, and question the cases of some people I see being in contention for awards that I don’t really think have a case.
LOU THESZ/RIC FLAIR AWARD (WRESTLER OF THE YEAR)
1. AJ Styles
2. Tetsuya Naito
3. Chris Hero
Honorable Mentions: Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Matt Hardy, The Miz
Criteria: "This is open to pro wrestlers, for a combination of everything, being both important and influential this year in a positive manner from a business perspective, combining both box office impact as well as strong match quality in worked matches."
AJ Styles: I know he’s the ‘boring’ choice, but let’s not get cute with this one. This is one of the biggest runaway wins in this category this decade. In every facet AJ has excelled this year. Obviously his exceptional in-ring work pretty much goes without saying at this point, but what makes AJ’s 2016 stand out so much is his massive improvement as a speaker, a character, and a presence. To go from TNA, NJPW, and the independents and pretty much immediately come across like the biggest star on the planet in the biggest promotion in the world after making the jump to WWE is truly incredible and something that shouldn’t be undersold, especially the way he was able to reach the pinnacle faster than almost anyone coming to WWE ever, even after losing his first two feuds.
As good as Smackdown’s writing has been, from a star power standpoint, without Cena, he’s really needed to carry the show, and has done so incredibly well. He’s main evented PPV after PPV dating back to April, never not delivering a performance worth paying to see in that spot. And the few weeks we got quarter hour rating numbers, AJ’s segments were always among the best on the show, and Smackdown has done pretty well since the split with AJ on top. He’s consistently taking insane bumps, even on weekly television, including taking a tumble off the ladder to the floor against Ellsworth to get everything he does over. He’s become the most complete performer in professional wrestling with his ability to wrestle, talk, and play the heel. Miz is fantastic, and a great 1a, but AJ Styles is still the man in 2016 WWE.
Tetsuya Naito: Tetsuya Naito is basically the closest thing to someone having any kind of real cogent and consistent case for the drawing end of the Thesz/Flair award this year other than AJ, except maybe Finn Balor or Bayley when they were still in NXT and Cena, who has been gone for most of the year. His houses have been good when he’s been working on top, but most importantly, he’s turned Los Ingobernables into a merch selling machine. I looked in the New Japan shop when compiling this list, and LIJ has four of their five best selling items (four and five being EVIL and BUSHI specific items) right now, including first and second (Tanahashi has the other top 5 item). It’s crazy how much merchandise they move. You look at Japanese shows, and they look like 1998 Raws with LIJ merch replacing Austin 3:16 shirts.
As for the in-ring component, Naito is definitely light, but the first match against Okada when he won the strap was very good, the two Ishii matches were great, the Elgin, Shibata, and Hashi matches in the G1 were all very good to great, and the semifinal match in the G1 against Kenny Omega was a genuine top end MOTYC. Obviously not a shine on many other candidates, but none of them are even close to the money he’s making selling merchandise.
Chris Hero: Someone like Chris Hero would never even get a look-in in past years, and merely be an exceptional most outstanding candidate, but in 2016, trying to cobble together drawing cases for pretty much anyone is grasping at straws. I really think Dave should consider altering the criteria for this award because drawing simply isn’t really a thing the way it used to be in wrestling when the award was conceived. So Hero’s case is primarily based around his unbelievable in-ring work, but with AJ Styles joining WWE in 2016, he’s taken AJ’s role as the most in demand independent wrestler this year, working all over the world in pretty much every major independent outfit from the United States to the United Kingdom to Germany and being the star attraction on the independent scene, and his top notch in-ring work will be discussed more when I get to Most Outstanding Wrestler. And with the recent news, maybe he can finish even higher next year, given the success of last year’s Most Outstanding winner in WWE.
Others in Contention:
The Miz: If this was an award for Performer of the Year, Miz would easily be second only to AJ Styles and arguably even first. The way those two push each other is so awesome. Every episode of Smackdown sees either AJ or Miz being called the best wrestler in the world pretty much based on who was on screen last. He’s been absolutely tremendous on the microphone, as a heel, as a character, at cultivating feuds, and even in the ring where he’s been one of WWE’s best guys this year, but the criteria for Thesz/Flair is specific and he’s not been in position to really develop any kind of a drawing case, even as nebulous as drawing cases are in 2016 in general, and specifically in the ring, he’s great but not on the level of greatness that Matt Riddle and Chris Hero reached this year. Best on Interviews is the category for The Miz this year. I do have some real high hopes for a 2017 Thesz/Flair run for The Miz next year, though, if they push him at the top of the card.
Sasha Banks & Charlotte Flair: First of all, to briefly pop back to last year, seeing what’s happened to NXT in her (and Bayley and Finn’s) absence, I still feel very good about putting Sasha Banks first for WOTY last year. The attendance for NXT has sunk this year without those three, including not even selling out every Takeover, whereas with Finn and Sasha and Bayley, they were pulling legitimate sellouts in 15k seaters, and Sasha was the best choice for the other half of the award last year given her three classics (that still hold up as the best women’s matches in company history, as fun as this Charlotte/Sasha series has been). I think some folks sold all three short as drawing cards to NXT, putting all the onus on it merely being a hot brand, when it turns out that those stars were actually the ones moving tickets. And given that the women’s division is still drawing numbers on the main roster, the credit certainly should go to all three, rather than only Finn because he closed the shows most of the time.
Consider both Finn and Bayley supplementary honorable mentions this year as well on those grounds. If they had better match resumes this year and/or been in NXT all year, I’d probably at least make the full case for them in honorable mentions, and could even see them cracking the top 3.
Moving on to this year, it’s hard to separate these two because both have such an important role in the success of the division right now, and their successes are so inextricably linked to one another. Both are very charismatic and come across like stars, but Charlotte is the more complete performer. Sasha is still rough as a promo, whereas Charlotte is getting better and better as a speaker every week, albeit her bravura performance is outside the voting period (but does give her a strong lead in the clubhouse for next year for Best on Interviews at this hour).
But on the other hand, Sasha is so important to the matches. It’s not that she’s necessarily a better worker than Charlotte, although I’d still argue that she is, it’s that she’s nuts. And I mean that in the best possible way. Such a big part of the success of those two is that they add a layer of authenticity to their matches that is so lacking in modern WWE. If Sasha and Charlotte have a match, it feels like actually must see television, because Sasha is willing to do absolutely anything with little regard for her health to get the division and her matches over. With most people, it’s fine to catch WWE TV on the DVR. Nothing makes it feel must see. But if they’re in a match, DVR ain’t good enough, you have to see that live.
I’m incredibly interested to see what happens next year if they do get separated from one another, because I think it’s entirely possible that either Sasha or Charlotte could be first, depending on how they develop, and if we’re able to find out who’s the driver of the ratings between the two of them, or whether it’s only this pairing that is pulling. Maybe both even crack the top 3 if they can keep this momentum going, because they’re the only full-timers to pop a number this entire year.
Matt Hardy: I had said in the mid-year post that I could see Matt Hardy moving up higher than number three if Impact’s momentum kept up, but after the excitement of Final Deletion, it couldn’t really maintain the momentum it picked up with that episode. Matt’s stuff remains excellent from an entertainment standpoint, but his drawing case is really only that one episode where they did a big number. The problem for Matt is that the rest of TNA, outside of the Allie storyline is really tough to get through. Speaking personally, I love watching Broken Matt’s segments (and Allie’s), but watching Impact live is pretty much death because the in-ring is really dreadful and the rest of the storytelling outside of those two is pretty bad. It’s very much a show to be DVRed, and I think that hurts his ability to pull numbers, but that’s still on him to a degree, because as we saw with the AE, if he was enough of a rising tide he could lift all ships.
1. The Miz
2. Braun Strowman
3. Baron Corbin
The Miz: While Miz never reached these heights outside of the ring, even when he was WWE Champion, he was always very good as a character, but the in-ring is what puts him on top this year. He’s gone from a solid hand to becoming one of the best guys in the company. He was awesome at Extreme Rules in the fatal fourway, tremendous against Ziggler every single time, especially the No Mercy match, plus his performance carried the ladder match at TLC, and he’s been consistently strong on TV throughout the year, and probably their second best TV worker behind Styles.
Braun Strowman: This was a guy who seemed unable to properly take a bump against Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble and now is the best part of Raw almost every week. He’s become a really fun presence, he uses his size extremely well, and has shown tons of progression in the ring in terms of quickness and mobility. He’s also shown himself to be a strong promo as well, and at Survivor Series, he arguably came across like the biggest star in a very star studded match.
Baron Corbin: I think the big improvement for Baron Corbin is that he’s seemed to put everything together. He showed flashes last year in the ring in matches like that absolutely awesome under the radar match at Respect teaming with Rhyno against American Alpha and flashes as a character with lines like "Go back to Ring of Honor!" at Apollo Crews at Takeover, but since coming to Smackdown he’s become way more consistent on both ends. He had the really good match with Apollo at Backlash and the two recent matches with Kalisto were very good, with the chair match being great and the Smackdown match being a fine sprint. And Talking Smack really opened up his character performance so much more. He feels like he’s fully fleshed out his anti-indy/anti-little guy gimmick into something fuller and more vibrant.
Changes from the Midyear:
Alexa Bliss: I had Alexa at the top in the mid-year, but I’ve revised that viewpoint watching her main roster matches. Basically, I had already thought she was great at the stuff she is great at last year. You watch the segment with her opposite Bayley after the Ironwoman match back in October and from a character standpoint she was already the "little bitch that runs the whole (Smackdown) women’s division" even back then, but I had thought she had turned a corner in the ring more than she had.
Turns out Bayley remains really, really good at convincing us that people are better than they actually are when they’re in the ring with her because I don’t think she’s had anything on the level of the match with Bayley at NXT during her few months on the main roster. I don’t mean that as a major slight on Alexa, because she’s still an absolutely outstanding character and speaker, I merely no longer think she fits for this award because she was already great at the stuff she’s great at now last year.
BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER
1. Fred Yehi
2. Drew Gulak
3. Jack Gallagher
Fred Yehi: Yehi reminds me so much of William Regal from a technical wrestling standpoint, which is extremely high praise. He has that great combination of creativity and painfulness that made Regal so awesome. He does so many clever little things like the hammerfist smashes to the feet, the extremity stomps, and a bunch of other strikes and holds that you don’t really see from anyone else that all make him stand out from the pack. But most importantly, it’s not cleverness for cleverness’ sake, all of it looks extremely vicious and genuinely painful, rather than merely needless flash in the place of substance like some technical wrestlers.
Drew Gulak: Another really gritty technician. Gulak is one of the most sound guys in the business from a technical standpoint. What keeps him out of first place is that he lacks the flair for creativity that Yehi has whereas they’re very similar everywhere else.
Jack Gallagher: As someone that loves World of Sport, seeing a guy do such a loving homage to the style makes me so happy. He really gets what World of Sport was all about. It was a style that mixed playfulness with painfulness, and he is a guy that gets both ends of it. He has all the fun elements with the quick and flashy reversals or the tying his opponent into a ball spot, but he also makes so much of what he does look damaging in the way the great WoS guys were able to do.
1. Timothy Thatcher
2. Cody Rhodes
3. Samoa Joe
Honorable Mention: Aron Rex
Timothy Thatcher: I loved Timothy Thatcher in 2015, but his 2016 has been a disaster. He started the year strong, still getting cheered, but by the time Mania Weekend came around, basically everyone in the Evolve fanbase except our good pal Rev Kain was ready for Thatcher’s reign to be over and The Bro to ascend to the top of the mountain. But instead, Gabe contrived to keep the belt on Thatcher. And he did the same in their second meeting. And then in the third, Thatcher won clean. And this drove the fans further and further against Thatcher as champion. Thatcher having a long title reign would be fine if he was still on his 2015 form, but everyone else in Evolve advanced and well, evolved, the style, but he really didn’t, and stayed the same guy he was in 2015, and it wasn’t as fresh or interesting this year, and too many people, most of all, Riddle, stepped up and looked destined for greatness.
Hopefully Stokely Hathaway can rehabilitate Thatcher in 2017, and I trust that the great man can, but for this year, he’s really hurt what should have been a huge growth year for Evolve with the FloSlam deal and WWE’s backing.
Cody Rhodes: While you were reading this paragraph, noted 2.5 star worker Cody Rhodes probably yet again went over a top indy name in a mediocre match. Cody made a late push for the title of Most Overrated, but what a push it was. Since going to the indies, rather than work hard and build a name on his performances, he coasted on his family one to get himself wins against most opponents he faced, rarely if ever losing clean in his very few losses, and did so with some of the most lackluster performances you’ll ever see. Once he beat perennial top of the card standout Zack Sabre Jr. in his first Evolve match, things were already looking bad, then he needed to lose dirty in PWG’s BOLA to get bounced from the tourney, beat Matthew Riddle, godking of 2016 independent wrestling, ended Pete Dunne’s undefeated streak in SWE, won multiple titles, and just this weekend came in to Evolve and cheated to beat its top heel because screw Evolve’s storylines, he’s in Bullet Club now, and everything else needs to take a backseat to Cody. If he was good, it wouldn’t be so egregious, but he’s the same grindingly mediocre worker he was in WWE.
WWE unleashing Cody Rhodes did more damage to the quality of independent wrestling than all of Hunter’s signings combined.
Samoa Joe: It really pains me to put him here, as he’s one of my favorites, but based on the criteria of the award, he’s the best choice. There’s no question he’s a great promo, and will make the honorable mentions for that award, but from an in-ring and business standpoint, he has simply not delivered. He’s been main eventing every single Takeover during the entire voting period, and I didn’t think a single one of those matches cracked four stars. And since Finn and Bayley left NXT, the houses are down with him in the top feud. It’s a fair knock on Nakamura as well, but Nakamura has the Styles and Zayn matches, and Joe doesn’t.
I wish they would call him up, because I actually think he’s someone who could be more successful, rather than less, on the main roster, because he fits the main roster more than NXT, which has largely been defined by beloved underdog stories rather than clash of the titans stories with people like Sami and Bayley, and most recently DIY who should be the NXT top faces at this point.
Changes from the midyear:
Chris Jericho: I absolutely stand by putting him first in the mid-year balloting, and those wins over AJ still don’t make sense like Jericho said they would (and probably actually make even less sense than they did then given how hard they’ve pushed AJ since then and Jericho has basically become a manager to KO rather than a wrestler), but in the back half of the year, he really steered into the skid of being a walking midlife crisis trying to desperately hang onto relevance any way he can by making that into his character, and the pairing with Kevin Owens has also really delivered. Still really don’t like the ringwork at all, but I like the character work, and he’s obviously outrageously over right now. The List in and of itself is the single most over act on Raw. So for that, he escapes Most Overrated.
Brock Lesnar: Welp. I think losing to Goldberg in 80 seconds probably drops him off the list.
Charlotte: The Sasha feud greatly increased her stock, she’s improved substantially as a performer, and after Raw’s big number for her main event with Sasha (as well as the big number for their late July match), she’s gone from Most Overrated contention to Thesz/Flair contention, which is pretty awesome to see.
Not in contention:
Roman Reigns: Stop it. He was pushed big for the first four months of this year, which certainly didn’t work, but he had the hot run in December after TLC, had the dynamite feud with AJ Styles that carried Raw in a bad period, and then has been wrestling for the United States championship while being one of the best in-ring guys in the promotion. He’s been overpushed for about a quarter of this year. Not a contender.
BEST WEEKLY TELEVISION SHOW
1. WWE SmackDown
2. WWE Talking Smack
3. WWE Cruiserweight Classic
SmackDown: I really waffled with whether to put SmackDown or Talking Smack in the top spot, but in the end I went with the A show proper. As great as Talking Smack is, I do like a bit of wrestling on my wrestling programming, and SmackDown still had plenty of shoots in its own right with the absolutely outstanding Ziggler/Miz feud and the Dolphumentary segment as well as the Dolph putting his career on the line promo, the Styles, Cena, and Ambrose confrontation before No Mercy, the Alexa and Becky back and forths, the rehabilitation of the Wyatt Family, the rise of James Ellsworth in addition to some awesome TV matches from AJ Styles, The Miz, American Alpha, The Usos, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and even Ellsworth.
Talking Smack: Really, The Miz’s first promo on Daniel Bryan (that I maintain has outs to be the best promo of all time if Bryan actually comes back to wrestle him at some point) alone would probably get it into contention, but there’s so much more. Everything about this works so well. Renee is a tremendous host, and she and Bryan have fantastic chemistry with one another, and it feels like everyone who appears on the show improves as a promo. People like Baron Corbin really completely found themselves on Talking Smack, and people like Miz, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose did some of their best ever work there.
Cruiserweight Classic: This is only a protest vote, as I know Dave said it isn’t eligible, but that’s kind of ridiculous since it seems like he made up the criteria at random, given that singular Ultimate Fighter seasons have been eligible and did not have to abide by his new 25 episode rule. If shows with 10 episodes aren’t television shows, then is Game of Thrones not a television show? This all makes no sense whatsoever.
But anyway, enough about arcane categorization…
This was really killer. It started a bit slow in the round 1 outside of the closing Gargano/Ciampa instant classic, but it kicked into high gear in round 2 and never let up, becoming one of the best wrestling tournaments of all time by the end, with a comparable amount of 4 star plus matches to even the best of the best like the Super J Cup ’94 and almost at the level of the ’95 Carnival. The presentation was also a great and unique approach for WWE and made the entire product feel really fresh and exciting, and as we’ve seen with 205 Live, the presentation is so important. Finally, Daniel Bryan excelled behind the desk with his incisive and knowledgeable commentary that made everyone seem even better than they were by accentuating their strategy and tactics from the booth.
1. Stokely Hathaway
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Bryan, King Maxel, Vanguard 1, Reby Hardy, Maria Kanellis-Bennett, Dario Cueto
Stokely Hathaway: I really could probably rest my case with suggesting people compare TJP a few months ago in Evolve to TJ Perkins now and look at what the major glaring difference between those two is. Because the answer is not having Stokely, and overness. When we saw TJ win the Cruiserweight Classic, he was still paired with Stokley in Evolve, and everyone thought he’d be a real breakout star, but that was because he had a tremendous performer supporting him on the microphone, covering for his deficiencies and emphasizing his strengths, like a great manager should.
WWE loves signing everyone these days, but it’s an absolute travesty that they don’t want any managers that aren’t grandfathered in like Heyman or married to performers like Maryse and Lana, because he could have so much value in getting people over in WWE. The amount of confidence Gabe has in him is staggering, now tasking him with rehabilitating Timothy Thatcher after Thatcher’s mess of a 2016. He’s an excellent talker, very charismatic and commands attention when he speaks, and has a great understanding of who his character is.
Allie: I’ve always loved the former Cherry Bomb as a character, but her performance as Allie is a complete revelation. She’s taken what should just be a one note flighty overexuberant secretary character and given her such heart and emotional depth that she’s become one of the most appealing babyfaces in professional wrestling. Having a wonderful villain like Maria to play off absolutely helps, but the humanity and nuance that Bomb has found within this inherently broad character is nothing short of fantastic.
The segment on the Thanksgiving episode where even after all the Lady Squad had done to her, she momentarily got so excited when she thought that they would have Thanksgiving dinner like a family, because it meant that she would finally have a family Thanksgiving dinner and then being told that she was only the server for Maria and Laurel’s double date was heartbreaking.
Maryse: While Miz has been getting the lion’s share of the praise for his reinvention this year, becoming one of the best performers in the business today, I don’t think Maryse always gets enough credit for how important she is to that development. Before Maryse, Miz didn’t have the same agency and power in his role that he does with her by his side. She’s obviously very good in all the reaction shots from ringside and her increasingly inventive ways to help her husband continue to hold onto the championship, but more important is what she means to his character. She basically changed him from a guy that you could kind of laugh off as a joke, and made him into someone you have to take seriously because she manifests just how much of a winner at life he actually is. It’s not that he married a beautiful woman, it’s the relentless devotion and affection that Maryse has for him, which makes him even more frustrating as a character. And beyond the character connection to Miz, as a performer, she seems to give him so much more confidence in everything he does. He seems like a different person with Maryse by his side.
Others in contention:
Daniel Bryan: Daniel Bryan is the authority figure concept done right. Sort of like a funhouse mirror version of 1998 heel Vince in a sense. What’s so important about Daniel’s performance is that he doesn’t have the ego that means he feels like he needs to get the upper hand on the performers all the time or make anything about himself. Like Vince understood, no matter how many times Austin stunned him, he’d never lose his heat because at the end of the day he was still the megalomaniacal owner of the entire company.
Similarly, Bryan is willing to come on Talking Smack every week and let people ether him constantly to get themselves over at the expense of beloved tragically retired wrestling legend Daniel Bryan because no matter how much crap heels like Alexa, Miz, Corbin, and Styles give him, he’ll never lose his heat that comes from being a beloved tragically retired wrestling legend, but it will get them more over as villains. It’s certainly done the most for The Miz, but it also did big things for Baron Corbin, Alexa Bliss and even AJ Styles.
The #Broken Matt Family: It’s so indicative of TNA as a product that they manage to have six best non-wrestler contenders between Allie, who made the shortlist, Maria Kanellis-Bennett who should always be in contention for this award, and the entire Broken Matt Family: Vanguard One, Queen Rebecca, King Maxel, and Senor Benjamin. It’s a dreadful in-ring product, and only getting worse with the empty husk that used to be Damien Sandow and Cody, and Impact, unleashing his wife onto the wrestling world, but the Lady Squad/Allie feud and the Broken Matt Saga have both been sensational. Allie and Matt are the stars of the show, but their supporting casts are great as well.
It’s amazing that a plastic drone has more humanity as a character than 90% of the rosters of Raw and NXT right now, but that’s where we are. Reby has been great throughout the angle, but I thought she really shined in recent weeks struggling to deal with Matt’s amnesia, and Senor Benjamin taking advantage of Matt’s amnesia to boss his boss around was also pretty wonderful in addition to his great performance that put him on the map at Final Deletion.
Dario Cueto: I’m sure he’s still performing well even though I’ve fallen out with LU this year, but the character kind of lost me after his breakout performance in season 1 when he became more of a traditional heel authority figure than the unique, sleazy, but not inherently evil, intensely profit motivated wrestling promoter he was in the first season.That character felt fresh. A traditional heel authority figure very much does not.
Not in contention:
Paul Heyman: He was great in the segment after Brock lost to Goldberg. No question about that. It showed why he wins this award all the time. That was one segment. In twelve months. The rest was repeating the same tired material he had been repeating for the previous twelve months. He’s extremely talented, but they didn’t give him anything interesting to do.
BEST MAJOR WRESTLING SHOW
1. WWN/Evolve Mercury Rising 4/2
2. WWE Cruiserweight Classic - Final 9/14
3. NXT Takeover: Dallas 4/1
Mercury Rising: No change from the midyear at the top of my list, as Mercury Rising managed to stave off any competition from the back half of the year. Mercury Rising remains the only show this year sporting three separate four star affairs for me (Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr, the Days of Future Past Six Man Tag Main event, and Tracy Williams vs. Matt Riddle), and a very good Yehi/Gulak match 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.
Cruiserweight Classic – Final: A brilliant compact two hours of great wrestling from top to bottom. The Perkins vs. Ibushi match was a MOTYC, the final between Perkins and Gran Metalik was also excellent, and the Sabre Jr. vs. Metalik and Alexander/Dar v. DIY tag were also really good. In addition to the excellent performances, the commentary was great as always, there was an awesome moment with TJ Perkins’ victory, and the usual stellar CWC presentation goes without saying.
Takeover: Dallas: TakeOver: Dallas almost feels bittersweet at this point because while it was definitely very great, it kind of feels like the end of an era.
Since Dallas, TakeOvers haven’t really had that must see supercard feel anymore. In the past, NXT specials really felt truly special, but since Dallas, that simply hasn’t been the case. The last hurrah of Sami Zayn and the debut of Nakamura in a top end MOTYC, Bayley’s title reign being snuffed out by Asuka to the absolute shock of the audience, the really good Alpha/Revival match that was the first to indicate exactly how good The Revival was going to be this year, and Joe getting busted open in the main and putting in his best NXT performance in the main event were all awesome moments in this great event, but most importantly, it still had that NXT 2014-2015 feel that has been missing since at any point except when The Revival and DIY have a match.
MOST DISGUSTING PROMOTIONAL TACTIC
1. Brock Lesnar busts Randy Orton open hardway with an elbow, giving him a concussion
Hardway Juice: WWE really wanted to have their cake and eat it too here, and doing so put one of their longest tenured performers and biggest stars in serious jeopardy. WWE had two choices here that are reasonable.
One is to have the courage of their convictions and just blade and eat the consequences of that if they felt that blood was absolutely necessary to sell this angle and it was the absolute best way to handle this match.
Two is to not use blood in the finish of the match and come up with something else.
What you really can’t do is to risk concussing your full-time performers to try desperately to get Brock over as a drawing card but not get in trouble for blading.
WORST PROMOTION OF THE YEAR
1. Ring of Honor Wrestling
Honorable Mention: TNA/Impact Wrestling
Ring of Honor (ROH): What a mess a promotion I once loved more than anything has become. I don’t even know what to say at this point. The booking is all over the place, there’s no storytelling momentum or heat, people like Cedric Alexander and Tommaso Ciampa left the company because ROH couldn’t find anything meaningful for them (and now ACH and Veda are gone too), and the latter in particular is absolutely thriving in WWE in basically the hottest act in NXT, they chose not to push either Lio Rush or Donovan Dijak, who will probably leave eventually too, and then there’s awful stuff like Matt Taven being a major player, the disastrous Cabinet, the overpushing of old acts like The Addiction, the wasting of The Briscoes who’ve done pretty much nothing of relevance this year after being the cornerstones of ROH for over a decade, the stale Bullet Club stuff, putting the belt on Kyle O’Reilly over a year too late after he’d completely cooled off from his peak in late 2015. A mess all around, and it’s genuinely sad to see.
TNA: I’ll absolutely get people voting for TNA here. The promotion was basically revealed to allegedly be a Ponzi scheme in court documents over the last few months, and the in-ring product as discussed above is really terrible, but I think from a creative standpoint, it’s been better than it’s been in ages. The Broken Matt stuff is legitimately fresh in a business that almost feels like even at the best of times it’s retreading old ground, the Allie/Lady Squad storyline has been some of the best stuff in wrestling this year, and Lashley’s title reign was awesome.
1. #Broken Matt Hardy
#Broken Matt Hardy: Like Dario Cueto last year for non-wrestler, this is my pick for biggest slam dunk on the ballot. Nothing else is even close. Broken Matt has been one of the most vibrant, unique and fun characters to come along in wrestling in a quite some time. What I love about the gimmick is that it’s something that on its face should have probably run its course in a few months and he could have simply coasted on the "Delete", "Brother Nero", "Obsolete Mule", and other catchphrases, but he added such depth to the character and keeps finding ways to further develop the gimmick and keep it entertaining, such as the reunion with Brother Nero to fight The Decay and reclaim the tag team titles for House Hardy or the recent amnesia angle. He’s also created such a wonderful world of characters with King Maxel, Vanguard 1, Broken Reby, Senor Benjamin, and even small players like The Scribe, his spot monkeys, and Joe Frazier the kangaroo that further flesh out his broken persona.
And beyond the silliness and absurdity, the core of the character came from a real emotional place after Jeff cost them the tag team championships by getting injured, so their feud culminating in the ultimate absurdity of Final Deletion had real resonance, as did the storyline of them reuniting to reclaim the tag team championships.
Thoughts, Cagesiders? Chime in below, and stay tuned for Part 2!