Hey everybody, I'm back today with the final part of this year's Observer Awards discussion now that the voting has started and Dave gave us the list of eligible rookies so I could make sure I was voting for people who are eligible. Any subscribers to the Observer are eligible to vote, and information on how to do so is in this week's Newsletter.
Click here for part one, and here for part two.
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR
1. The Revival
3. American Alpha
The Revival: The Top Guys are without a shadow of a doubt the best tag team on the planet. If only they had Prime Jim Cornette by their side, they might be pushing the Midnight Express for greatest heel tag team of all time. But even without the Louisville Lip, they still manage to get more heat in their matches than any modern heel act I can think of. I think my favorite thing about the Revival might be their strategy and tactics. They come up with so many different ways to cheat or bend the rules to get little edges in their matches and it’s always good at inciting the crowd even further. Things like using the belt as a shield so Gargano hurt his leg kicking it are always so amazing and you wonder why other people don't think to do stuff like that. As is the way they always keep moving, so you need eyes in the back of your head wrestling them, or you’re going to get hoodwinked by one and hurt by the other. Unbelievable team and can’t wait to see what they can do at the next level now that they’ve finally lost the tag straps.
DIY: Gargano & Ciampa came out of nowhere as a tag team late last year, but they’ve quickly become one of the best tag teams in wrestling. They have great chemistry with one another both in and out of the ring, and are outstanding in their roles. For Johnny in particular, this was the role he was born for. He’s become genuinely one of the best faces in peril since the man himself, Ricky Morton. As great as the Revival are, he’s been so important to the amazing greatness of that series. And that’s not to sell Ciampa short as he’s a great hot tag and sells very well in his own right, but Johnny Wrestling is special.
American Alpha: Alpha has been pretty quiet since the draft, but their NXT peaks were strong enough to let them sneak into the top three for me. The series with The Revival, while not quite as great as the DIY/Revival series, was still outstanding tag team wrestling and put both teams on the map in a huge way. Plus, the match on Smackdown when Jordan didn’t want to tag in Gable because he saw his leg was too hurt was excellent storytelling. Hopefully they can connect with the crowd more on SD, because as in-ring performers, they’re still as good as they were earlier in the year.
FEUD OF THE YEAR
- Dolph Ziggler v. The Miz
- DIY v. The Revival
- Sasha Banks v. Charlotte
Honorable Mentions: Matt Hardy v. Jeff Hardy, Daniel Bryan v. The Miz, John Cena v. AJ Styles, Roman Reigns v. AJ Styles, Tetsuya Naito v. New Japan Pro Wrestling, Johnny Gargano v. Drew Galloway, American Alpha v. The Revival, The #Broken Hardys v. The Decay, Katsuyori Shibata v. The 3rd Generation, Katsuyori Shibata & The 3rd Generation v. Pro Wrestling NOAH
Dolph Ziggler v. The Miz: I cannot fathom what I’d say if you told me that Dolph Ziggler was going to have the 2016 feud of the year, especially in a year that happened to have quite a few really good feuds, but here we are. This is the true peak of post-draft Smackdown. What they have been able to accomplish with this feud is nothing short of miraculous. They took Dolph Ziggler, a totally dead character, and completely reinvigorated him. And huge credit also goes to The Miz becoming the best performer in the company not named Allen Jones Styles for making this feud work, as well as the chemistry that Dolph and Miz have against each other in the ring. The No Mercy match in particular is the best match of both of their careers, and the segment where Dolph put his career on the line was the best wrestling segment of 2016 bar none. All-time level performance from both guys in that segment, and an all-time performance from The Miz throughout the feud.
DIY v. The Revival: With the Young Bucks re-signing with Ring of Honor, this might be the closest we’ll ever get to a modern Midnight Express v. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. An incredible feud in every way and it actually pains me not to vote it first. Obviously the in-ring goes without saying, but even outside the ring they’re such perfect foils for each other. You have the No Flips, Just Fists old school Revival and then you have the two indiest of indie guys opposite them. It’s such a natural clash and really made the feud sing.
And the matches. My goodness, the matches. The Toronto match is the no doubter match of the year for me, but the Brooklyn match is also in my top 8. What makes their matches so special in addition to the brilliant in-ring work is the feud itself, the characters, the way the crowd actually gives both sides the desired reactions and does it in a huge way. No one gets more heat during their matches than The Revival. They’re a genuine throwback to when crowds wanted to jump the rail. And Johnny Gargano has become the best face in peril babyface of the modern era. An unbelievable feud and feels like a real throwback to that RnR/MnX peak of tag team professional wrestling.
Charlotte v. Sasha Banks: I’ve criticized the writing of the feud plenty, and stand by all of it, especially damning was their complete inability to come up with anything for Sasha Banks other than Enzo hitting on her the week after she finally won the championship for the first time, but the failures of the writers room cannot take away from what these two ladies accomplished in the ring this year.
This is the women’s wrestling Dynamite Kid v. Tiger Mask. Innovative, exciting, occasionally very messy, and genuinely revolutionary. During the build, the focus is often on history making and revolutions and other back-patting, but the matches themselves live up to all of that talk and trade making history for visceral hatred and passion and revolution for a return to wrestling’s roots of a hated heel that the crowd wants to boo and a beloved never say die babyface that the crowd wants to cheer. They throw all the high spots in the world, but what makes those high spots work is that they all look like they’re actually trying to hurt the other person when they’re doing them, not merely trying to pop the crowd.
I always complain about the lack of authenticity in modern WWE, and the women’s division making history narrative might be the single biggest example of that, but there’s nothing more authentic than when these two wrestle each other. Sasha in particular might be the best in the business at wrestling in a way where you believe in her that she is genuinely trying to win the match for real, like she’s not in on the work, and that’s so awesome when so much of modern wrestling is about winking at the camera and telling them they’re watching a performance.
BEST FLYING WRESTLER
1. Will Ospreay
Honorable Mention: Dragon Lee
Will Ospreay: He started to break out in 2015, but 2016 was really the year that put Young Will on the map in a big way. He started the year off strong with the well-regarded, if not for me, series with Marty Scurll, then had many of the most talked about matches of Wrestlemania weekend with Evolve, including the instant classic with Zack Sabre Jr. in front of Evolve’s biggest crowd to date. Then he moved on to challenging KUSHIDA for the Junior Championship in a sensational match at Invasion Attack after signing with NJPW, and next moved on to the best of the Super Juniors tournament and had one of the most talked about matches of the year against Ricochet that produced "This is awesome!" chants from Korakeun Hall in the heart of Japan. He also went on to win the tournament with a stellar finals performance against Ryusuke Taguchi. His back half of the year saw a bit of a downturn for Will due to lingering injuries, but that run from December to June is too strong to not put him in the top spot.
Ricochet: Perennial Best Flying Wrestler contender Ricochet is no different this year. Obviously it’s outside the calendar, but this past weekend reminded me that we sometimes take Ricochet for granted at this point, but he’s still an outstanding flier and has yet to truly be outdone by any of these young kids bursting onto the scene. I personally prefer him when he works more technically sound guys like Yehi who he worked this weekend or his great match with TJP at Evolve on Mania weekend and shows off his wrestling chops more than his flips, but he’s a simply outstanding flier, there’s no doubt about that.
Kamaitachi/Dragon Lee: Their series of matches is some of the most outstanding timing and precision based wrestling I’ve ever seen in my life. As cool as innovative and rough around the edges wrestling can be, it’s equally cool to see two guys doing this innovative stuff at 110 miles per hour and hitting every single move pitch perfect. Kamaitachi gets the slight edge for me because of his insane senton to the floor spot, but it’s razor thin between the two of them and both are incredible.
PROMOTION OF THE YEAR
WWE: While WWE’s main roster didn’t have a banner year from a business standpoint, they’ve done very well mitigating that fact by diversifying their products even further to drive up network subscriptions and that has been keeping them in the black even during this time when they’re lacking in true top stars. So while houses are down with John Cena gone for much of the year, WWE is still making money because they simply have their hands in so many different pies (and just stuck their hand into another one mere hours ago!).
And from a creative and entertainment standpoint, this year has actually been really strong. You have the revitalized post-split Smackdown that feels like one of the best WWE products in years, Talking Smack being a huge positive addition to the Network, and the Cruiserweight Classic being one of the best tournaments that wrestling has ever seen. And on Raw, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair are becoming legitimate must see stars.
Progress: I like to reward expansion in this category, and Progress certainly fits the bill in that regard, running a sold out show in the 2400 seater Brixton Academy after already needing to find a bigger venue in 2014 when they moved from The Garage to the Electric Ballroom as their new permanent venue. That kind of growth for Progress in such a short span is really impressive and has revitalized the British Wrestling scene such that big networks like ITV are trying to get back into the wrasslin’ business and allegedly WWE is trying to build a presence in the UK as well.
Evolve: While Evolve set attendance records Wrestlemania weekend, since then it’s gone primarily back to its normal venues, so this is more of a vote for the product than the business standpoint. It closed the year weaker than when it started off, but from December to around July, it was the best in-ring product on the planet with show after show delivering great matches and an outstanding talent roster, many of whom are now signed to WWE, putting Evolve in a real rebuilding phase.
Another point in favor of Evolve is that it is where Matt Riddle got his start and blew up into one of the hottest attractions in independent wrestling this year. And with Chris Hero re-signing with WWE, he’s going to need to be the face of independent wrestling going forward into 2017, and having that guy as the focal point of Evolve could potentially be a big draw for them if they use him right going forward. They certainly should put the WWN Championship on him when that tournament comes around next year.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Matt Riddle
2. Fred Yehi
3. Lio Rush
Matt Riddle: …Bro.
Need I say more? I guess I should say a bit more. Matt Riddle, as I said in Most Outstanding, is the best rookie of all time. It’s not only that he’s a really talented in-ring worker, he just gets it. He’s a complete performer. One of my favorite things with Riddle on the mic is the way that he already knows how to hold crowds in the palm of his hands. The way he does the big build up before ‘Bro…’-ing someone is bordering on Rockesque, and gets a massive reaction every time he does it. He’s intensely charismatic, has a great look, and is actually a really good promo. He’s got it all. The sky is the limit for Riddle in 2017 and it’s really ridiculous that he remains unsigned by WWE given how desperate they are for top stars, but the independent scene desperately needs him anyway.
Fred Yehi: I think it’s probably a bit of a stretch to call Yehi a rookie, but Dave is counting him per the list he put in this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter, so he gets the number 2 spot on my list. I talked plenty about Yehi in Best Technical Wrestler, so not to repeat myself too much, I’ll just say that Fred is one of the best and most interesting wrestlers in the world today. His style is so thoroughly his own, and that’s such a cool thing when there’s so much wrestling out there and it’s so hard to find ways to stand out. He always does. Every Fred match I see something that I don’t see anyone else doing, and wish more people would steal his stuff, because it’s pretty much all awesome.
Lio Rush: The best young flier in wrestling today. Exceptional talent and such a smart worker for someone so new. The sky is the limit for Rush going forward if someone realizes what they have in him.
WORST TELEVISION ANNOUNCER
- Joey Styles
- Josh Matthews
- Mauro Ranallo
Honorable Mentions: David Otunga, Matt Striker
Joey Styles: I only heard him call a couple of events this year, but he still undoubtedly is at the top of the list for me in this award. As frustrating as I find the others in contention, no one managed to completely kill a show for me in the way that Joey Styles did at Evolve 72. This isn’t about the Trump joke either, this is about his commentary during the actual matches which was so stale, so obnoxious, and so completely lacking in product knowledge that I was thanking God for that Trump joke because I thought it might force Gabe’s hand to do what he should have done anyway, which is can Joey and his 20 years out of date show-ruining commentary.
Josh Matthews: I’ve really enjoyed TNA for much of the year since the Hardys took over and Allie’s story began, but one of the biggest drags on the product is their commentary. I talked about how Lenny Leonard makes Evolve seem professional, and Matthews is the opposite. He makes TNA come across as so thoroughly bush league.
Mauro Ranallo: There are definitely things to like about Mauro, but no announcer has been as consistent in making me shout expletives while watching the show as Mauro’s shoehorned pop culture and Japanese wrestling references have produced on an almost weekly basis. The pop culture references are merely cringey, but the problem with the constant Japanese references is that it makes it feel to the viewer as though they’re watching an inferior product, since all this stuff has already been done before in Japan. One of the most galling examples was actually not a reference to Japan, but a reference to Mexico during one of Miz’s matches. Miz was doing the surfboard to copy Daniel Bryan’s moves, but rather than flag up that important story point, he needed to tell us about how Rito Romero invented the move.
Matt Striker: By the grace of me no longer watching LU, he manages to avoid the list, but his disgusting commentary during the WMD match certainly made me want to list him.
Not in contention:
Everyone who usually finishes ‘well’ in this award: This is one award where I really hope voters don’t go the Golden Gloves approach of voting the same people they voted for every previous year, because most of those people have actually been very good this year or at least not bad. Let’s start with the completely reinvigorated JBL. Since coming to Smackdown, he comes across like a guy who merely needed a change of scenery, because he’s been doing really good work week to week on Smackdown since the split. The peak of JBL on Smackdown has been his utter disgust at all of the nonsense going on with James Ellsworth. The way he plays the indignance at Ellsworth’s mere presence to the way he’s about to blow a gasket every time the great AJ Styles has to suffer another indignity at the feet of the Chinless Wonder has been nothing short of sensational. He’s felt very Brain-esque with his handling of all things Styles/Ellsworth.
Michael Cole should really never be up for this award, except during his run as Heel Cole, but especially not this year. He and JBL have really thrived being separate from one another I think, because their pairing made them indulge in both of their worst habits.
And finally, Jerry Lawler. He was a good heel commentator when he was on Smackdown early in the year, and has been gone since then. Face Lawler is definitely someone deserving of placement in this category in past years, but Heel Lawler did some solid stuff in his time behind the desk at Smackdown. Oh, and Byron Saxton, who is more inoffensively dull than actually bad at this point.
BEST WRESTLING MANEUVER
1. Bromission - Matt Riddle
Honorable Mention: O Face/Moon Landing - Ember Moon, GTS/Bellahammer Combo – Daniel Bryan (Total Divas)
Bromission: The move looks fantastic and it’s called the Bromission. That’s really all that needs to be said.
GTS/Bellahammer Combo: Technically this one is Total Divas only, but it made me wish Nikki took it on board as her new finish, as much as I do like the Rack Attack 2.0.
WORST FEUD OF THE YEAR
Considerations: The Undertaker v. Shane McMahon, Triple H v. Roman Reigns, and Charlotte v. Natalya
Undecided: This is the one category where I really can’t settle on an answer I’m happy with. I think all three were quite bad, but I’m not sure any was so egregiously bad that it’s clearly worse than the others, so I’m happy to hear arguments in the comments for any one you think is the worst, or even a different one I hadn’t considered. Here’s my thoughts on each.
The Undertaker v. Shane McMahon: What really hurts this one is a real lack of coherence on multiple levels. It never really felt like the narrative made sense, we never really got why Taker was willing to do this explained in a cohesive manner, and in the end, they overturned the result anyway, so it had no real purpose. And outside of the dive off the cell, the match itself was long and painfully dull.
Triple H v. Roman Reigns: The big problem with this one was alignments. It’s possible this feud could have worked if they had reversed them, but people were really hating Roman and cheering Triple H pretty heavily, so there was no heart in the feud. It didn’t feel like Reigns’ struggles resonated with the audience, so there was nothing to really compel you. Not to mention that the authority angle had really run its course by this point, and it was pretty much impossible to recreate a story that had been done so much better so recently with the exact same player on the villain side, in the Authority vs. Daniel Bryan feud.
Charlotte v. Natalya: A feud about who’s family name is better between two legacy blondes isn’t the type of thing that is going to captivate any audience, especially not with Natalya in the lead babyface role and a still finding her footing Charlotte in the heel role. Natalya is really only good when she’s able to be weird and/or outcast, like her current lyric quoting cat-lady character or her as the third wheel in Tyson and Cesaro’s bromance. Thank God for the Charlotte/Sasha feud or we might already have been back to square one in the women’s division by now.
PROMOTER OF THE YEAR
1. Jim Smallman, Jon Briley & Glen Joseph
Smallman/Briley/Joseph: As discussed in promotion of the year, Smallman, Briley, and Joseph have done fantastic work building up and expanding Progress Wrestling, running their biggest show yet this year. They also do a great job staying ahead of the curve on performers, being more than prepared for WWE and NJPW to increasingly come calling for their guys. They always make sure to avoid getting complacent and keep elevating new talent to make sure they don’t put too many eggs in one basket, as well as developing talent on their own from the ground up, including one of their current top heels, Jinny.