Friday, January 9, 2015

The 2014 Bloggie Awards

Welcome to the 2014 Bloggie Awards, presented to the best in the wrestling industry for the last calendar year. Announced within are the winners of these awards, but before we begin, here's what the Bloggies are and aren't:
  • The Bloggies are NOT a measure of who drew money or drove business. Look to the Observer for that scope.
  • The Bloggies are NOT a measure of kayfabe accomplishment. Pro Wrestling Illustrated has that covered like a boss.
  • The Bloggies are NOT crowd-sourced or openly voted upon. They're chosen by me and me alone, so if anyone has a problem, take it up with me.
  • The Bloggies ARE a measure of who did the most to advance the ART of wrestling. Who told the best stories? Who talked with the silverest of tongues? Who wrestled the best matches? Who had the biggest emotional impact? These are the questions that these awards have set out to answer.
Now, without further ado...

Wrestler of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Bayley
  • Dean Ambrose
  • Eddie Kingston
  • Rusev
  • Sami Zayn
And the winner is... SAMI ZAYN!

Photo Credit:
It's easy for a given promotion to base an entire year around a wrestler. However, that formula is not always a recipe for success. The wrestler has to be up for the challenge, both in the ring and in advancing the narrative in other ways. NXT, WWE's autonomous and strangely different in most every conceivable artistic way developmental territory, took a chance and focused its entire year on Sami Zayn. In return, he drove the results to critical heights that the post-corporate parent company could only really ever dream of. The story was all about his ability to win "the big one," and he in turn took it and hammered it home. He brought passion, pathos, vulnerability, and above all else, tremendous wrestling to the role, and because of it, NXT was the most must-watch weekly television show in wrestling. Zayn is wrestling's most valuable player. He is the Wrestler of the Year.

Ricky Steamboat Award

And the nominees are:
  • Dean Ambrose
  • Kimber Lee
  • Sami Zayn
  • Sasha Banks
  • Sheamus
And the winner is... SAMI ZAYN!

Photo Credit:
Like I wrote in the previous award entry, Zayn brought fantastic, tremendous wrestling to the NXT ring on a near-weekly basis. From his best two-out-of-three falls match with Leo Kruger to start the year through his Match of the Decade candidate against Adrian Neville at the end, Zayn brought it hard and fast every time he went to the mat. His week-to-week efforts were solid, but the marquee matches, vs. Cesaro at ArRIVAL, vs. Tyler Breeze at the first Takeover, the Fatal Four Way, and then both Neville matches towards the end, were among the best work anyone has put in all year.

Talker of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Bray Wyatt
  • Enzo Amore
  • Lana
  • Sami Zayn
  • Stephanie McMahon
And the winner is... STEPHANIE MCMAHON!

Photo Credit:
In theory, I'm not a fan of the 20 minute RAW-opening in-ring gabfests, and usually in practice in 2014, they were weights on the show that dragged it down. However, whenever Stephanie McMahon got on the mic, they didn't seem so bad. Her command of passive-aggression, like a nagging mom using her powers for one-percent hegemony instead of wanting you to find a girlfriend or eat your vegetables, somehow fit perfectly into the aggro, hyper-masculine world of WWE wrestling. She was also a master of the artful troll, which is an underrated metric when talking about heel mic work. McMahon, like her father, has found a groove where she can exist as an evil authority figure if such a thing has to be on the show.

Independent Wrestler of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Biff Busick
  • Candice LeRae
  • Eddie Kingston
  • Nicole Matthews
  • Ricochet
And the winner is... CANDICE LERAE!

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
For the first part of 2014, her impact was mostly confined to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and she was arguably the most important player there up until the Battle of Los Angeles. PWG's tag team scene is hotter than a lot of companies' main title narrative, and with LeRae, alongside Joey Ryan, lit that scene on fire. One could argue that Ryan's inclusion was complementary at best, that the story was really about LeRae. I'd be inclined to agree. Then, she started branching out and making the rounds at a lot of the go-to promotions in the US. She was a highlight addition to Absolute Intense Wrestling, Beyond Wrestling, Women's Superstars Uncensored, and Dreamwave Wrestling. Wherever LeRae went, fun and importance were bound to follow.

Tag Team of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Goldust and Stardust/Cody Rhodes
  • reDRagon (Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly)
  • The Usos (Jimmy and Jey)
  • The World's Cutest Tag Team (Candice LeRae and Joey Ryan)
  • The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson)
And the winner is... THE WORLD'S CUTEST TAG TEAM!

Photo Credit: Devin Chen
It's easy to poo-poo Ryan's involvement in the team; hell, I've probably done more to fuel that narrative in the nomination writings and what I wrote for LeRae above. But even if Ryan was a supporting player, he played a great role to LeRae's lead narrative no matter where the team went. In a stiffly contested category, the World's Cutest Tag Team always brought a little extra oomph no matter where they went.

Manager of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Chris Trew
  • JT LaMotta
  • Lana
  • Sidney Bakabella
  • Veda Scott
And the winner is... SIDNEY BAKABELLA!

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein 
No manager was more important to his or her stable's success than Bakabella was for The Wrecking Crew. His old school voice lent an important identity to his throwback bruisers. His interference always had charm and panache; hitting Amasis with a roll of quarters in the tag gauntlet at King of Trios was such a choice move. He also was not afraid to take a punch for his team. Anyone in wrestling who allows a  hairpiece to get pulled off in the name of narrative gets points from me. Bakabella earned this award.

Group of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • The Carter Administration (Dixie Carter, Ethan Carter III, Rhyno, Rockstar Spud)
  • The New Movment (Cherry Ramones, Chris Trew, Delilah Doom, Keith Lee)
  • The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins)
  • Sidney Bakabella's Wrecking Crew (Blaster McMassive, Flex Rumblecrunch, Jaka, Max Smashmaster, Oleg the Usurper, Sidney Bakabella)
  • The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper)

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Of course, Bakabella's charges all did their thing around Chikara, and arguably, they were the star players within The Flood. The Devastation Corporation was perhaps the best working trio in wrestling all  year long, thanks especially to Max Smashmaster developing into an elite HOSS. The other two members made huge strides, and both Oleg and Jaka worked hard in their roles as well.

HOSS of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Keith Lee
  • Luke Harper
  • Max Smashmaster
  • Rusev
  • Sheamus
And the winner is... RUSEV!

Photo Credit:
Rusev crush! Rusev hit! For Putin!

New To Me Award

And the nominees are:
  • Charlotte
  • Danny Cannon
  • Deucalion
  • Paige Turner
  • "Smooth Sailing" Ashley Remington

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Dalton Castle may have been around for years, but I find a fundamental difference between Castle, the upstate New York stalwart, and Remington, the yachtsman who has taken Chikara BY STORM. So much of the year was consumed by the Flood story, but Remington helped provide something fun, something light, something for the crowd that didn't just want to see wrestlers "dying" or the company's life being held in the balance. Remington took a character concept, immersed himself into it, and has become one of the most fulfilled and enriched members of the roster.

Comedian of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Damien Sandow
  • Hornswoggle
  • Los Ice Creams
  • Prakash Sabar
  • The Submission Squad
And the winner is... DAMIEN SANDOW!

Photo Credit:
I almost nominated Sandow for Wrestler of the Year because he has taken a gimmick that has done no one any favors over the years, the serial cosplayer/imitator, and taken it to extreme heights, especially after he adopted the role as Miz's stunt double. The Miz character upon his return was great, but adding Mizdow as a second was a phenomenal touch, made golden by how into it Sandow immersed himself. I don't know if "funny can draw money," but I do know that Sandow's brand of comedy has been one of the few bright spots on any given RAW in 2014.

Feud of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Bayley vs. Sasha Banks
  • Chikara vs. The Flood
  • Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins
  • Evolution vs. The Shield
  • The World's Cutest Tag Team vs. The Young Bucks
And the winner is... CHIKARA VS. THE FLOOD!

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
It can be hard to do all-encompassing promotional angles, but Chikara's war with The Flood was well-done and had a resolution that not only felt satisfying, but also raised questions and set the table for the next thing without making it feel like the whole year was for naught. The emotional stakes were raised with the wrestler "attrition," the microfeuds were kept hot, and it produced several cathartic moments, most notably at National Pro Wrestling Day with the company's rebirth and at King of Trios when Eddie Kingston "came home."

Announcer of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Bryce Remsburg
  • Eamon Paton
  • Excalibur
  • Portia Perez
  • Rich Brennan
And the winner is... EAMON PATON!

Photo Credit: Kelly Kyle
Paton is pretty much a rookie announcer, but one wouldn't know it by listening to his cool and informative play-by-play with multiple partners during Inspire Pro broadcasts. He showed a veteran presence and developed chemistry with anyone he shared the booth with, whether friendly like Bryce Remsburg or Portia Perez (Perez, friendly? Gotta get my ears checked) or antagonistic like Andy Dalton. Inspire Pro may have found itself the next great indie announcer.

Moment of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Chikara is reborn at National Pro Wrestling Day as the promotion's faithful, led by the Submission Squad and Icarus, beat back The Flood
  • Deucalion "kills" Kobald with his chokebreaker at You Only Live Twice
  • Nicole Matthews looses a fireball into Madison Eagles' face at the end of the four-way elimination match for the SHIMMER World Championship at Vol. 68
  • Seth Rollins leaps from a mezzanine concourse onto Randy Orton and Triple H at Extreme Rules
  • The Yes Movement invades the ring live on RAW, forcing Triple H to give Daniel Bryan his opportunity at WrestleMania

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Wrestling consumes my pop culture consumption and is the closest thing to a love that I have outside of the people in my life. Still, I have only ever cried twice at a wrestling happening. The first was at the end of DDT4 '13, when El Generico and Kevin Steen embraced for one last time before the former headed off to WWE. The second was here, at National Pro Wrestling Day. I kinda knew that Chikara's rebirth was coming, but how everything was pulled off, with the entire roster banding together to beat back the then-nameless Flood and reopen the promotion I loved more than any other in wrestling history filled me with such cathartic joy. Nothing else in 2014 came close to replicating that amount of emotional response. Nothing.

Promotion of the Year

And the nominees are:
  • Beyond Wrestling
  • Chikara
  • Inspire Pro Wrestling
  • SHIMMER Women Athletes
And the winner is... CHIKARA!

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
When Chikara went dark in June 2013, a lot of people questioned the wisdom of a company intentionally closing its doors as part of its kayfabe. However, I think with how the long game played out, that bold choice turned out to be vindicated, especially with how the events of National Pro Wrestling Day and You Only Live Twice played out. From there, Chikara churned out the story and built towards an end of the season that had both resolution and continuance built in. Chikara has returned and claimed its spot back on top of the mountain.