Welcome to the 2015 WWE Johnny Awards. These are the awards where we honor the hard working employees of World Wrestling Entertainment based on their work over the last twelve months. I come to you today to present the very “prestigious” awards that I call the 7th annual WWE Johnny Awards! This is World Wrestling Entertainment stuff ONLY. It says it in the title, but I want you to remember that when you ask why there’s no New Japan, TNA or ROH in here. It’s WWE only!
These awards are based on my own personal choice. There were no polls or write-in votes. My name is on the awards, so I get to pick the winners. I don’t expect anybody reading this to agree with every single thing I write below, but I will do my best to justify all of my choices. The awards are based on performance. It doesn’t necessarily matter if a person wins all their matches on television and titles really aren’t that important. It’s about the performance more than anything. (This intro was basically the same as the last three years. You’re welcome.)
Regarding NXT, in past years I’ve separated it from the main roster. Not anymore. I’m going to include NXT related items in every award as well because I watch it every week. The NXT brand is awesome and I loved my experience when I went to NXT Takeover and the tapings in Orlando in October. It would be wrong to ignore it the way does with their Slammy Awards.
Dedicated To Tom Briggs
Before I begin, I want to dedicate this column to my friend Tom Briggs, who unfortunately passed away on March 1st in a single car accident. Tom was part of the TJRWrestling team for about four years and we had especially grown close in the last year. When we lost TJRWrestling.com (due to people that hosted it pulling the plug on their servers without any warning) I was pretty down about it. About three years of work was gone just like that. It was Tom that encouraged me more than anybody, that told me we could rebuild it and he would always offer to help me. A lot of what you see at TJRWrestling.net right now is Tom’s doing. We built the site together in late February and it was him doing most of the work on the technical end. He loved writing about wrestling as well as hosting the Sharpshooter Podcast with his twin brother Aaron. I miss him dearly. This one’s for you, buddy.
THE 20 MAJOR JOHNNY AWARDS
There will be 20 major awards. Each one will have a description of what the award is, the previous winners of the award (if the award existed in the last six years), the winner of the award, the runners-up for the award, and then my extended thoughts on the award. There are some “worst” awards too because some bad things deserve to be remembered too. I’ll also include photos, videos and links to relevant content so be on the lookout for that throughout the column. Let’s get to it.
- BEST WRESTLER
To be given to the person that best combines workrate, character, microphone work and everything else into one. This is similar to WWE’s Superstar of the Year award. Past winners – 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010: Randy Orton, 2009: Chris Jericho
Winner: Seth Rollins (Runners-Up: John Cena, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Sasha Banks, Finn Balor, Bayley, Roman Reigns)
This is the most difficult award for me to pick this year. If you see the list of past winners, I think the choices have been obvious for at least the past four years. In 2015, it was a close battle between Seth Rollins and John Cena, both of whom had great performances for ten months while missing the last two months of the year. In the end, I went with the repeat winner in picking Seth Rollins.
If you read my stuff regularly then you know I have “stars of the night” while also using star ratings to rate matches. Since this race was so close, I wanted to use those facts to help come up with my decision. Thanks to my friend John Harper, who keeps the stats for me, I’ve been able to figure out that Rollins has 18 matches over the ***+ (out of five) level while Cena had 13 matches. Then when I look at “stars of the night” Rollins has 26 appearances compared to 19 appearances for Cena.
There are other factors too. I feel like Cena’s best feud against Kevin Owens was better than any feud that Rollins had. Cena’s feud with Rusev was boring, though. Then they feuded with eachother, which produced several good matches. Rollins was hurt by boring feuds with the likes of Randy Orton and Kane, which seemed to drag on too long. That’s not his fault, but that’s how he was booked. Rollins improved in terms of promos, but then they overdid it with him by having him say the same things too often. Of course, Cena has that problem too.
When I think of big moments during the year, Rollins stands out with the WrestleMania cash-in to become WWE Champion. Cena never really did anything that was that significant all year. Yes, the US Title Open Challenge was great because it led to good matches with different opponents, but what Rollins did topped him.
As for the others, I listed them all as runners up because they had great years whether it was on the main roster or in NXT.
Since Rollins is out of action until next summer, it’s unlikely that he’ll be a three-peat winner. Who gets this award next year? No idea, but I look forward to finding out.
- BEST FEUD
To be given to the best rivalry between two or more performers. Past winners – 2014: Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority, 2013: CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman/Brock Lesnar, 2012: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, 2011: Randy Orton vs. Christian, 2010: The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan, 2009: CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy
Winner: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (Runners-Up: John Cena vs. Kevin Owens, Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker, Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose, Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens)
It’s a first for the Johnny Awards because I think the best feud involved two women in NXT: Bayley and Sasha Banks.
It was a great story with Bayley starting out the year with a goal in mind to be the NXT Women’s Champion. She came up short at the February Takeover event, but then she earned herself a singles title shot against Banks at NXT Takeover Brooklyn in August. They had the best women’s match in WWE history that night. That’s how strongly I felt about it. Two months later, they had a 30 minute Ironman Match in Orlando that I saw in person. We stood up for about 20 minutes of that match and it was at that moment when I really understood how special of a feud this was. By the time the feud was done, both performers were bigger stars after it was over. Great matches go a long way in making a rivalry special, but when you can say both of them were elevated – that really makes it stand out.
I loved the Cena/Owens feud. They introduced Owens to the main roster in a big way by having him beat Cena clean in his first match on the main roster. Then Cena won two straight and that was pretty much it. They could have done so much more with the feud. The matches were great, but the story wasn’t strong enough.
The way Lesnar/Undertaker was set up made a lot of sense to me. Undertaker cost Lesnar the WWE Title against Seth Rollins. Then they had that massive brawl on Raw in July to set up SummerSlam. That brawl was one of the best moments on Raw this year. The SSlam match wasn’t that great, but Hell in a Cell was awesome.
Rollins had a very good feud with Ambrose just like they did in 2014. Their two big PPV matches at Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank really stood out to me. Plus there was an awesome Raw match in there too. This is a natural rivalry that will be strong whenever it picks up again whether it’s in late 2016 or beyond.
There were several great Balor vs. Owens matches this year. I wish there was a bit more depth to the feud, but the matches they produced were top quality.
- BEST MATCH
To be given to the best match. Past winners – 2014: The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield @ Elimination Chamber, 2013: Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk @ SummerSlam, 2012: The Undertaker vs. Triple H (Shawn Michaels as ref) @ WrestleMania 28, 2011: CM Punk vs. John Cena @ Money in the Bank, 2010 winner: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 26, 2009 winner: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 25
Winner: Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena @ Royal Rumble January 25 (Runners-Up: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks @ NXT Takeover Brooklyn Aug 22, John Cena vs. Kevin Owens @ Elimination Chamber May 31, John Cena vs. Cesaro @ Raw July 6)
It’s another very tough category. In the last few weeks, I re-watched the top contenders that are based on my star ratings throughout the year and ended up going with the triple threat match for the WWE Title at the Royal Rumble. When WWE added Rollins to the Lesnar/Cena match I was thrilled because we’ve seen Lesnar/Cena enough, so adding Rollins to the mix meant that they could throw in some high spots and cool moments. That’s exactly what they did as Rollins took out Lesnar with an elbow drop off the top rope through the announce table. Then when Lesnar came back, he was a wrecking machine that went on to finish Rollins to retain the WWE Title. It was a thrilling match from start to finish.
As mentioned earlier, I felt like Bayley vs. Banks at NXT Takeover Brooklyn is the best women’s match in WWE history. I liked it even more after I watched it again recently because of how well the crowd bought into everything they were doing it. They ended it on a high note with a crazy reverse hurricanrana spot off the top to really make it memorable. Their Ironman match in October was outstanding as well.
I loved all three Cena vs. Owens matches. The reason Elimination Chamber stands out the most is that Owens beat Cena clean. It was one of those shocking moments that you couldn’t really believe. Their match at Money in the Bank may have been even better. I just remember the EC match more.
Since I loved Cena’s US Open Challenges so much, I had to acknowledge the match with Cesaro on Raw on July 6. What a classic battle that was. It did so much to legitimize Cesaro as a guy who can thrive in a featured role if he was ever given the opportunity to be a main eventer.
It was a great year for matches in WWE. That’s a strength of the company. These matches were the ones that stood out to me the most.
- BEST PAY-PER-VIEW
To be given to the best pay-per-view. Past winners – 2014: WrestleMania 30, 2013: SummerSlam, 2012: Extreme Rules, 2011: Money in the Bank, 2010: WrestleMania 26, 2009: Summerslam
Winner: WrestleMania 31 (Runners-Up: Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber)
There wasn’t an all-time great PPV event this year, but WrestleMania 31 stood out the most. They filled the show with a lot of great moments that we’ll never forget and I don’t think there was anything that bad at the event. If we’re being picky, we could say that there wasn’t a match of the year contender on there. It’s true, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment factor. I liked the ending a lot, The Rock’s surprise appearance, that amazing RKO by Orton on Rollins, The Undertaker looking great in a return after a year away, Sting’s WrestleMania debut even though it was dumb to have him lose and of course the awesome Lesnar/Reigns main event capped off by Rollins leaving with the WWE Title.
Most of the other PPVs were similar in that they featured two or three matches that hit the three star level or above, yet none of those shows really stood out. I went with HIAC and EC as the runners up due to consistently good matches from top to bottom.
4b. BEST NXT TAKEOVER SPECIAL
Winner: NXT Takeover Brooklyn Aug. 22 (Runners-Up: NXT Takeover Rival Feb. 11, NXT Takeover London Dec. 16)
I felt like adding a new category under the same guise as best PPV just because NXT Takeover specials have become a regular thing. They aren’t the same as traditional PPVs because they are often times an hour shorter, but deserve their own spot.
The Brooklyn show was probably the best NXT event there’s ever been with Balor beating Owens in a great ladder match, Bayley finally becoming Women’s Champion by defeating Banks in a classic and I thought The Vaudevillains winning the Tag Team Titles was pretty special too.
Every NXT Takeover special is great. They keep it about the wrestling and give their performers time. It’s really not that difficult.
- BEST FEMALE PERFORMER
To be given to the best female performer. Past winners – 2014: Paige, 2013: AJ Lee, 2012: Eve, 2011: Beth Phoenix, 2010: Natalya, 2009: Mickie James
Winner: Sasha Banks (Runners-Up: Bayley, Nikki Bella)
I know that Nikki Bella had a 301 day Divas Title reign that is an all-time record, but that doesn’t mean she was the best female performer. That was Sasha Banks.
Banks really elevated her game in 2015 as the lead heel on the NXT brand. It’s funny because even though she played this cocky heel character, fans ended up cheering for her at times because they recognized her greatness. This year she had so many amazing matches with the likes of Bayley, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and a few of the main roster girls although she hasn’t had as many opportunities as she should have. Banks has such a bright future that she may be the first repeat winner of this award next year. She has to get a fair shot on the main roster, though.
I’ve been so impressed by Bayley this year. She went from being a solid in-ring performer for the last couple of years to a woman that became a tremendous all around talent within the last year. The matches have been great especially with Banks, but she also showed she could put on an awesome showing against an inexperienced worker like Nia Jax a few weeks ago as well. I assume she won’t be in NXT much longer. Here’s hoping she gets a solid push on the main roster although I have my doubts about that.
Nikki Bella deserves praise for improving as an all around performer this year. She didn’t have the memorable matches that the other girls had, but she was consistently pretty good all year long. She showed this year that she’s more than just a model that was hired for her looks. Good for her.
- BEST TALKER
To be given to the best person at delivering promos. Past winners – 2014: Paul Heyman, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010 winner: CM Punk, 2009 winner: Chris Jericho
Winner: Paul Heyman (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens, Bray Wyatt)
I think Paul Heyman is the clear winner again for the third year in a row. While people could say that he was on less than half the shows this year due to his role as Brock Lesnar’s advocate, he’s still the best promo guy in the company and I don’t think anybody is at his level. He finds way to say things while making them entertaining each time. Do you hear people chant “what?” when he speaks? No. That’s because they actually listen to what he’s saying because he does such a great job of making it interesting. I think back to all the times where he says stuff that leads to Lesnar laughing because even he’s amazed at what Heyman comes up with.
Kevin Owens is likely going to win this award in the future. He just needs more opportunities to talk. If Owens becomes the top heel in the company he’ll get a chance to speak a lot more because top heels always get more promo time. From his work in NXT in the first half of the year to making a statement on the main roster in the second half, Owens proved he is a master of the microphone.
Bray Wyatt’s a really good promo guy. My complaint is that he has gotten a bit stale in that regard. However, I think back to the build to WrestleMania when Undertaker wasn’t on television and he had to do all the promos by himself. That’s when he really got to show how skilled he is. Much like Owens, he’ll probably win this award in the future.
- WORST FEUD
To be given to the worst rivalry between two or more performers. Formerly known as the Katie Vick award. RIP Katie. Past winners – 2014: Brie Bella vs. Nikki Bella, 2013: Big Show vs. Triple H/Randy Orton, 2012: Kane vs. Zack Ryder/John Cena, 2011: Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler & Jim Ross, 2010 winner: Kane vs. Edge, 2009 winner: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
Winner: Dolph Ziggler/Lana vs. Rusev/Summer Rae (Runners-Up: Stardust vs. Goldust, Damien Sandow vs. The Miz)
What a mess that Ziggler/Lana vs. Rusev/Summer feud became. It was a love rectangle that was a total mess without a real ending because Lana became engaged with Rusev in real life even though she was making out with Ziggler on camera for the storyline. Why would she get photographed with the engagement ring? Another factor in the story was Ziggler being gone for over a month to film a movie, so they had these awkward segments with Lana on her own against the heels and nobody was there to help her. I figured it would lead to Lana costing Ziggler a big match while siding with Rusev, but they couldn’t even do that since Lana broke her wrist. What a brutal storyline that did damage to all four performers.
I’m a huge fan of Goldust and Stardust, but their feud sucked. There were rumors of a feud for years, then they pulled the trigger earlier this year, had a match at Fastlane and it bombed. The story was pretty much dropped from there. It could have been so much better.
While I’m a huge fan of Damien Sandow and liked his story with The Miz, the creative team dropped the ball by not giving Sandow a big win to end the feud. They wasted six months of storylines and did nothing when it was over.
- WORST PAY-PER-VIEW
To be given to the worst PPV. They wanted us to pay money for this? Past winners – 2014: Tables, Ladders & Chairs (And Stairs), 2013: Battleground, 2012: Hell in a Cell, 2011: Over The Limit
Winner: Royal Rumble (Runner-Up: Fastlane)
Aside from the awesome triple threat match between Lesnar/Cena/Rollins that was my match of the year, the Royal Rumble sucked. The Rumble match itself was poorly booked with stars like Daniel Bryan and Dean Ambrose getting tossed out rather easily while the fans booed winner Roman Reigns even after he had The Rock out there to help him. I’ll never forget The Rock’s face when the crowd booed – he was stunned by it. Everything else on the card was forgettable too. I rated the show 4/10 and I think without the amazing MOTY it would have been a 2/10.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about Fastlane aside from the awesome Reigns/Bryan match. That match was done to try to legitimize Reigns as a top guy and it worked to some degree. After looking at the results, the rest of the lineup was pretty forgettable with Cena jobbing to Rusev although it wasn’t a clean loss.
- WORST MATCH
To be given to the worst match. Past winners – 2014: Batista vs. Alberto Del Rio @ Elimination Chamber, 2013: Santino vs. Heath Slater @ Smackdown Sept 27, 2012: John Cena vs. Michael Cole @ Raw June 4, 2011: Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler @ WrestleMania 27, 2010: Kaitlyn vs. Maxine from NXT3, 2009: Divas battle royal @ WrestleMania 25
Winner: Royal Rumble Match
I was thinking of dumping this category, but when I really think about it the Royal Rumble match was the worst of the year. It should be the most fun match that is the easiest to book, yet WWE has done a poor job with it for a few years now. They booked some great performers so poorly, especially Daniel Bryan, just because they wanted to get him out of the way before Roman Reigns got in there. What a bad decision that was. Then they had all that interference at the end of the match with Kane and Big Show going after Reigns only for The Rock to come out and he was booed for it.
In terms of match ratings, there were several others that were worse than the Rumble match. However, in terms of overall booking and execution, that match stands out above the rest.
- BEST TAG TEAM
To be given to the two men that function best as a tag team. Past winners – 2014: The Uso, 2013: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns, 2012: Team Hell No (Kane & Daniel Bryan), 2011: Air Boom (Evan Bourne & Kofi Kingston), 2010: The Hart Dynasty, 2009: Chris Jericho and The Big Show
Winners: The New Day (Runners-Up: Cesaro & Tyson Kidd)
This one wasn’t that close because The New Day were the best team once they turned heel and were allowed to show the kind of creativity that a heel tag team hasn’t had since Edge & Christian about 15 years ago. They’re the most entertaining act in the entire company in a lot of ways. Some people may not like the jokes, but I do. In the ring, they are very good as well. I like how they use the numbers game to win matches with Xavier Woods outside the ring while Big E and Kofi Kingston are doing their thing in the ring.
If the Cesaro/Kidd team were together all year then they may have won this award. Sadly, Kidd suffered a severe neck injury in June that required surgery and that ended things. Cesaro also needed surgery for his shoulder late in the year.
The rest of the main roster has some talented teams: The Usos (Jey Uso missing six months after shoulder surgery hurt them), Lucha Dragons (on the rise), Dudley Boyz (good veteran addition), Harper/Rowan (they should team more often), The Ascension and they can probably pair up some guys doing nothing in order to bolster the depth on the show.
There are several very good teams in NXT right now. I think Jason Jordan & Chad Gable are the best of the bunch, but have only been teaming for a few months. The Vaudevillains are ready for the main roster while Enzo & Cass can be one of the most popular teams anywhere.
I think there’s potential for the tag team division to be great again.
- THE “NEXT BIG THING” AWARD
To be given to the wrestler that is most likely to be the “next big thing” in the new year. Past winners – 2014: Bray Wyatt, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Dolph Ziggler, 2011: Cody Rhodes, 2010: Alberto Del Rio, 2009: John Morrison
Winner: Sami Zayn (Runner-Up: Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Bayley)
This was a tough one to pick: Zayn or Balor? I’m going with Zayn because I think he’s the better all around performer that combines exceptional in-ring work with great promos. He wasn’t always a great talker, but he’s improved in the last few years and I feel like he can be the biggest babyface in WWE if they let him. There’s no reason for him to be in NXT for that long. Get him on the main roster for the Royal Rumble.
Balor’s got a bright future just like Zayn. His look, especially with the Demon entrance, is the coolest thing in WWE right now. You can’t take your eyes off the guy when he does that. That’s star power. He isn’t the best on promos although I feel like that’s just a case of him not getting that many opportunities. As he gets more comfortable, he’ll get better at them.
If Samoa Joe were to be promoted to the main roster he would thrive. They could book him as a top heel that goes after John Cena right away. There’s a backstory because they trained together 15 years ago when they were starting out in California. My worry is that they may be content to just keep him in NXT, which is fine, but I want to see him perform on the bigger stage too.
I’d love to be optimistic and say that Bayley’s going to be a big deal on the main roster. I just don’t know if it’s to happen because of how Vince McMahon books women. They never seem to book them right. She has all the tools to be a special performer as well as an inspiration to female wrestling fans everywhere.
Others to keep an eye on: Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin and Jason Jordan/Chad Gable.
- BEST HEEL
To be given to the performer that is the best at drawing the ire of the audience. Past winners 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: Daniel Bryan, 2011: Christian. Award began in 2011.
Winner: Seth Rollins (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens, Sasha Banks, The New Day)
We have a repeat. I don’t think it’s very close either. Rollins was by far the best heel and it was showed by how sorely lacking the heel side was when he left. It would have been nice if he was booked stronger because he was too much of a cheap heel, so much so that his title reign was bad at times. Why have him lose so many non-title matches? It was frustrating to watch. He’ll probably be a face when he returns next summer.
Here’s hoping that one day Owens can be unleashed as the top heel on the main roster. He was so good in NXT at the start of the year. He’s still very good in general, but they don’t let him talk enough. Maybe losing the IC Title will open things up for him.
Sasha Banks is a pure heel. She trash talks and then she backs it up in the ring with her exceptional performances in the ring. I feel like creative is going to turn her face in the new year because of all the “We Want Sasha” chants. I hope it doesn’t make her uncool as a face.
The New Day are great performers that are definite contenders as well. They are comedic heels more than anything, but they have credibility as WWE’s best tag team.
A shoutout to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon for being good heels when they need to be. Problem is, they aren’t consistent in their roles, so it can be difficult to watch at times as they try to be faces at other times too. Make up your damn minds!
Bray Wyatt should be mentioned here, but he was made to look like a fool too often. Plus, he loses all his big feuds to bigger names (John Cena, Roman Reigns, The Undertaker), so fans won’t see him as a star. He can beat The Dudley Boyz every week though!
- BEST BABYFACE
To be given to the performer that is the best at receiving the adulation of the audience. Past winners – 2014: Dolph Ziggler, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: John Cena, 2011: Randy Orton. Award began in 2011.
Winner: John Cena (Runners-Up: Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Bayley)
Cena came so close to winning Wrestler of the Year, but at least he can know he’s the Babyface of the Year. He had a great year while having some of the best matches of his life. He really didn’t go after the WWE Title that much (aside from SummerSlam), so it was weird in that way. Normally he’s always around the WWE Title, yet this year he made a point to make the US Title mean something. It worked.
Roman Reigns has his haters, but he is a true babyface that was able to overcome bad writing to end the year strong as the WWE Champion. The creative team finally realized he needs to be booked more like Steve Austin and less like John Cena. It seems to be working for him now.
I like Dean Ambrose a lot even though I have written many times this year that he would be better off as a heel. It would allow him to do more promos and potentially stand out more. As a face he gets good reactions. I just don’t think he’s reaching his full potential.
Bayley is the most pure babyface in the entire company along with Cena. It’s hard not to like her or root for her in every match she’s in. Whether she’s against a cocky heel like Banks or a bigger foe like Nia Jax, she always finds a way to get the fans behind her.
If Brock Lesnar was a full timer maybe he would have won this. Since he’s not around enough, I have a hard time putting him over the others. I still think he’s better off as a heel, but WWE must realize that fans are going to cheer him due to his star power and because of that, he’ll be in the face role for the time being.
- BIGGEST NEWS STORY
The stories of the year that we’ll always remember when looking back at the year that was. Past winners – 2014: CM Punk leaving WWE, 2013: The WWE Network Still Isn’t Here, 2012: Jerry Lawler’s heart attack, 2011: The death of Randy Savage, 2010: The departure of several big names (Shawn Michaels), 2009: Shane McMahon leaves WWE
Winner: Injuries Decimate The Roster (Runners-Up: Hulk Hogan gets fired, Deaths of Rhodes & Piper)
Daniel Bryan (concussion). Seth Rollins (knee). Randy Orton (shoulder/neck). Cesaro (shoulder). Tyson Kidd (neck). Sami Zayn (shoulder). Hideo Itami (shoulder). Jey Uso (shoulder). Goldust (shoulder).
Those are just some of the names that have missed significant time this year (or into next year) due to serious injuries. I was going to put Daniel Bryan alone because we have no idea when he’ll get back in the ring after a concussion in April. He has said for months that doctors have cleared him, but WWE is reluctant to do so and they may never allow him to wrestle again.
It’s been really difficult for WWE to fill in the gaps left by some of these guys. I hope this sort of thing isn’t a trend going forward and that it’s just a case of bad luck. The fact is these guys/gals put their bodies on the line 4-5 times per week in some cases and it’s going to happen. Sad but true.
Hulk Hogan getting fired over racist remarks on a sex tape (that he was not aware of) from a decade ago were a huge story. It led to WWE cutting all ties with him after using him as a judge on Tough Enough and putting him on television regularly. I think he’ll be back in the mix in a year or two, but this has definitely tarnished his legacy.
Lastly, the deaths of Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper this summer were very difficult for the wrestling community to deal with. Dusty worked so closely with the NXT stars while Roddy was a legend that WWE loved bringing back once in a while. Both legends are missed tremendously.
- BEST INDIVIDUAL PROMO
To be given to the one speech that was the best in the last year. Past winners – 2014: Daniel Bryan “Occupy Raw” face to face with Triple H @ Raw March 10, 2013: Mark Henry @ Raw June 17, 2012: Kane’s Speech at Anger Management @ Raw August 27
Winner: The Rock with Ronda Rousey, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania
It’s true that things that happen at WrestleMania tend to be remembered more often. At this year’s WrestleMania, The Rock made an unannounced appearance as Stephanie McMahon and Triple H were in the ring bragging about how it was their show. In a segment that lasted about 20 minutes, The Rock informed them that it was the “People’s Show” and that didn’t sit well, so Rock left. Since he couldn’t hit a woman, he brought his friend Ronda Rousey (conveniently sitting ringside) into the ring and she took down Stephanie as well as Triple H rather easily.
That moment wasn’t advertised for the show, nor was it was expected. There were rumblings that The Rock might be there, but it was one of those things where nobody knew for sure. The Rousey surprise was really cool because she had never done anything in a WWE ring before this. It came off so well. How many other people could pull off a 20 minute promo segment in the middle of a WrestleMania? The Rock is a special talent that is the best talker in WWE history as well.
As for other individual promos, there are certainly some things said by Kevin Owens or Paul Heyman that were great, but The Rock is a clear winner of this one.
- BEST TURN
To be given to the best babyface or heel turn that benefited the performer the most. Past winners – 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Randy Orton, 2012: Big Show, 2011: Mark Henry, 2010: Kane, 2009: CM Punk
Winner: The New Day (Runners-Up: Randy Orton, Samoa Joe)
An example of WWE’s poor creative team this year is evident in this category because there really weren’t any significant heel or face turns that really changed things up the way they have done in the past.
The New Day wins this one because they debuted as a trio in late 2014, they were pushed as a face group in early 2015 and it was obvious it wasn’t working. All of their “power of positivity” was really lame. After WrestleMania, crowds chanted “New Day sucks” at them repeatedly. They turned heel shortly after that, won the Tag Team Titles for the first time at Extreme Rules (I was there for it) and went on to have a great run as the best tag team in WWE. What’s funny is they didn’t turn because of good writing. They turned because of bad writing, not because of some creative angle that WWE set up. Think about that. It’s WWE in 2015 in a nutshell.
For other turns, I could only really think of Randy Orton going face early in the year to set up his feud with Seth Rollins. It was very obvious, but it was well done and the crowd popped big for it when it finally happened.
Samoa Joe’s recent heel turn on Finn Balor in NXT was good although I don’t think he was that established as a face for it to mean that much. It just felt like something they did in order to get a main event match at NXT Takeover London in December.
Hopefully there are some significant turns in WWE in 2016. Names like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler come to mind.
- THE “KTFO” AWARD
To be given to the person or thing that deserves to be KNOCKED THE F**K OUT~! Past winners – 2014: The Bunny & Adam Rose, 2013: The Great Khali, 2012: Teddy Long, 2011: Michael Cole, 2010: The anonymous GM angle, 2009: Michael Cole
Winner: The WWE Creative Team
I’ve never done this before, but I have to give this “coveted” award to WWE’s Creative Team. Despite having one of the best rosters in the history of the company, the Creative Team has had a really poor year. Gone are the days of unpredictability and surprises. They don’t take any risks anymore. I’m not sure if this is because Vince McMahon is an out of touch 70 year old man or if they worry about offending potential new sponsors like Coca-Cola, who had previously stayed away from WWE due to their programming.
It’s been a frustrating product to watch. The matches tend to be good to great very often, but creative needs to be so much better.
- MOST IMPROVED PERFORMER
To be given to the performer that has shown the most improvement in the last year. Past winners – 2014: Damien Mizdow, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Ryback, 2011: Zack Ryder, 2010: Cody Rhodes, 2009: Kofi Kingston
Winner: Bayley (Runners-Up: The New Day)
The clear cut winner to me is Bayley. By giving this award to her, it doesn’t mean that I think she was ever a bad performer. It’s not like that at all. All I’m saying is that she had the best year of her career by far, to the point that she was one of the best wrestlers in the whole company. To go from a midcard girl in NXT to a legit main eventer in NXT shows how far she’s come. As a worker she got better, as a talker she improved a lot and in terms of her star power, she’s a big deal now. Hard work pays off.
I think all three guys in The New Day were good before they became a group. It’s fair to say that they improved significantly when they came together. Kofi Kingston had gotten stale as a solo act after all these years, but he’s found new life as a heel. A few years ago Big E debuted as a bodyguard that didn’t talk much. Now he’s one of the most entertaining guys on the microphone because he looks comfortable out there. He’s a future World Champion. Xavier Woods spent years waiting to break through. Now he’s in his comfort zone as an annoying mouthpiece for the group that is pretty good in-ring too when he gets the chance.
- BEST VIDEO PACKAGE
To be given to the best video package that highlights a feud, performer or other event. Past winners – 2014: Daniel Bryan @ WrestleMania 30 “Monster”, 2013: CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar @ SummerSlam, 2012: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena @ Extreme Rules, 2011: The “Macho Man” Randy Savage tribute video, 2010 winner: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Winner: Brock Lesnar/Undertaker for SummerSlam (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn for NXT Takeover Rival, Bayley vs. Sasha Banks for NXT Takeover Respect)
This is always a tough category because WWE does some phenomenal video packages every year. Three stood out to me.
When I watched the video of Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker leading up to SummerSlam I was amazed how good it was. They really didn’t do anything that complex because it just featured clips of things from the past as well as comments from other people in wrestling, but it worked so well. This is the kind of hype video that UFC does all the time and it works so well. WWE doesn’t do them enough. That’s what made it stand out. You can watch this and easily see why it was billed as arguably the biggest match of the year.
I can remember sending this Owens/Zayn video a friend that doesn’t watch NXT because I wanted to see if he could understand why I was so excited for this match. It was the story of two former best friends that worked hard to get to the same spot and one of them got jealous of the other guy when he made it to the top. Easy story to follow and my friend totally got it too. It got me so hyped for their match in February. Perfect hype video.
I may be biased towards this one since I was at the NXT Takeover Respect event in Orlando where I saw video packages about this match a few times. It did an excellent job of showcasing their classic match at NXT Takeover Brooklyn, then it followed the storyline that took place after with Banks talking about how she wanted to get her title back. Then there were exclusive comments from each woman as well as clips of them training in the gym. A tremendous video to get people ready for the historic Iron Man match that they had.
Also worth checking out are WWE’s tribute videos to the late Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper.
- MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
To be given to the most memorable moment of the year. Past winners – 2014: The Undertaker’s undefeated streak ends at WrestleMania 30 when he loses to Brock Lesnar, 2013: Daniel Bryan wins WWE Title leading to heel Triple H/Orton, 2012: Brock Lesnar’s Return April 2 on Raw, 2011: CM Punk’s Promo June 27 on Raw, 2010 winner: Bret & Shawn embrace in the ring, 2009 winner: The Undertaker/Michaels match
Winner: Seth Rollins becomes WWE Champion at WrestleMania 31 (Runners-up: Kevin Owens pins John Cena clean at Elimination Chamber, Brock Lesnar brawls with The Undertaker on Raw, Brock Lesnar’s rampage on Raw after WrestleMania, Samoa Joe debuts in NXT, Main roster debuts of Charlotte, Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch on Raw)
The moment I’ll remember most about WWE in 2015 is Seth Rollins leaving WrestleMania 31 as the WWE Champion after cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase. He pinned Roman Reigns to win the title while Brock Lesnar was never pinned. I didn’t see it coming. Some people did. It had never been done before. If it ever happens again it won’t have the magical feeling that this one did. Great ending to the best PPV of the year.
Owens pinning Cena was huge. It was another one of those moments that I didn’t expect. I can remember getting a bunch of texts and seeing all these tweets pop up as I reviewed that show live. It was such a huge deal at the time. Owens losing to Cena two times after that hurt the win a bit, but as a singular moment it was huge.
That Lesnar/Undertaker brawl on Raw in July was incredible. One of the best pull apart brawls you’ll ever see in WWE. It took about 20 minutes too. Normally they are quick and that’s it. Not this one. There was a believability factor to it where you could sympathize with both guys too.
Lesnar’s post WrestleMania attack on Raw was outstanding. He is at his best when he’s out there destroying people and whatever objects are nearby. It’s fair to say it was one of the most believable things in WWE this year. You could see why this guy was mad. Nobody throws a fit better than (cue Paul Heyman voice) Brrrrrrock Lesnarrrrr!
Samoa Joe’s NXT debut in May was a huge moment because I never thought it was going to happen. I’m a huge fan of him and for him to finally sign a WWE deal after wrestling elsewhere for like 15 years was a big deal. Whether it was a surprise or whether you knew about it beforehand, the fact that it even took place was huge. Too bad his feud with Owens never got to become the big deal it should have been.
I haven’t loved everything about the “Divas Revolution” on Raw, but I really liked how they debuted Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. It wasn’t perfect with Stephanie McMahon doing it because it felt like she was assigning them spots. They could have gone about it in a different way where Paige said she had backup (Charlotte & Lynch) while Naomi said she did too (Banks). Still, as a moment it was pretty cool.
THE MINOR AWARDS
These are other awards/random thoughts that I basically made up off the top of my head without going into full details. There are 10 of them. I could do more, but this is a long enough column as it is.
Best WWE TV Show – NXT
I think it’s a pretty easy choice once again. The fact that NXT is only a one hour show certainly helps it because it rarely drags like three hours of Raw and Smackdown doesn’t seem to matter anymore at two hours. That doesn’t mean that NXT is always great because there are some weeks where they have boring matches, but the story development is much better than the other two shows. I hope NXT never becomes more than hour long show because it’s perfect how it is.
Best Crowd – NXT Takeover London
It’s fresh in my mind because the show was a couple of weeks ago. I know some other crowds were great like NXT Brooklyn and the Raw after WrestleMania, but I thought the fans in England were the best of the year.
Biggest off screen news story – Hulk Hogan gets fired for racial slurs
The Hogan story was massive. Like I mentioned earlier, I think over the next year or two they will find a way to bring him back, but they did the right thing in moving on when they did.
Best non-wrestler – Paul Heyman
He wins again. I don’t think there’s a question about it although I like him more as a heel than as a face.
Best finishing move – Kevin Owens’ Popup Powerbomb
Since he is my favorite wrestler in WWE that is actually healthy right now, the Popup Powerbomb that Owens uses is at the top of the list. I know that Powerbomb is a very common move, but the way he tosses a guy into the ropes, lifts them up and slams them down makes it look a lot more devastating. If Seth Rollins was still doing the Curb Stomp, that might have been my pick.
Best announcer – Corey Graves
I think Graves is the best by a wide margin. I wrote a debut article for AwfulAnnouncing.com ranking the announcers and put Graves at the top of that last. Check it out to see where the others rate. Keep an eye on Mauro Ranallo on the Smackdown brand this year because he could be the winner of this award next year.
Best WWE Network Show – Breaking Ground
This is a great show that takes fans behind the scenes for things that take place behind the scenes at NXT and the WWE Performance Center. I like a lot of other thins on the network, but this show is really worth your time if you haven’t seen it before.
Best DVD/Blu-Ray – Owen Hart
It’s another one that is fresh in my mind because I only picked t up within the last week. Great documentary with a number of different people talking about him ranging from those that knew him to those that only watched as a fan.
Most poorly used performer – Damien Sandow
There are so many to pick from. In addition to Sandow, guys like King Barrett, Rusev, Dolph Ziggler, Fandango and others come to mind. WWE is doing a terrible job of utilizing of some of their midcard talent these days.
The JTG “That Person Still Works in WWE?” Award – Heath Slater
Poor Heath has become a joke. I think he’s got talent, but they even made a joke out of him doing an exclusive WWE.com interview last week. At least with David Otunga he’s working on the Raw pre-show, which I don’t watch. Slater’s barely visible on television.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WWE IN 2015
Since I always like to rate the shows out of 10, how about a rating for the year? Here’s how I rated the last five years.
This year I’m going with a 5.5 out of 10. Same as last year.
It was tough to think of a score. I think the quality of matches from top to bottom on the main roster and NXT led to me to keep the score around an average grade although the booking has been poor all things considered.
What a frustrating year it’s been for WWE. In terms of wrestlers on the roster, they have such a talented group of performers, yet they can’t ever seem to get the momentum going for months at a time to put on an entertaining product consistently.
This has been one of the most boring years to write about the WWE product in my 15 years of doing this. For the past seven years I’ve written about every Raw and every PPV. When I look back on all those years, at least there are some things that I can point to as examples of very good to great storytelling. This year? There just isn’t a whole lot.
The three episodes of Raw that followed Survivor Series were among the worst shows of the year. Triple H went on a conference call where he basically admitted that the product was bad and they needed to be better. A week after that third one, they had a great episode with Reigns leaving as the WWE Champion. Action packed show all night. Then a terrible Slammys show and it’s back to mediocrity. That’s how the year has been. One step forward and two steps back. Just give us some consistency, please.
The talent is very good in WWE. The creative team is not. It can get better and here’s hoping that there is some significant improvement in 2016. It’s really not that hard if they keep it simple.
At least there’s NXT, which is a traditional wrestling show that is entertaining every week. Great year for NXT with high expectations heading into 2016 as well.
This is my favorite column to write every year. I say this part every year: If you’re one of those people that reads a lot of my work without writing this is one of those times where I’m asking for your thoughts because I want to know what you thought. Don’t be shy. I reply to all emails. You can also contact me on Twitter or Facebook – the links to those are at the bottom of the post.
Thank you to my good friend Steve Melo for the banner you saw at the top of this post. He also does the banners for every one of my columns including the always fun “preferred” Raw Deal banners, PPV banners and more. We might be putting out some TJRWrestling shirts in the New Year too.
I wish you all a safe and happy New Year in 2016. I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading.
As I said, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My contact info is below. Thanks so much for reading!
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