Greetings all Revolutionists and Space Cadets,
I've been looking forward to writing this post since January 4 of this year, when NJPW's Wrestle Kingdom 9 took place, and Poncho came over and we watched some sick wrestling, and wondered if the rest of the year would measure up. Now, looking back, I can say that it was indeed a stellar year all-around for wrestling (not to be confused with Sports Entertainment, for which 2015 was not such a banner stretch). I have a handful of my favorite matches of the year to share today, and so doing, hope to memorialize their entertainment value for every single person who follows and patronizes this fake blog. First though, a few non-match highlights:
Best Commentary: Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino easily bag this for the third year running. The only competition that got remotely close was the team of Kevin Kelly and Mr. Wrestling III.
Character Feud of the Year: Another ROH coup, the rivalry between Dalton Castle and Silas Young has been so much fun, it's like smooth fair-trade dark chocolate is pouring out of the screen right into my eyeballs.
Crush of the Year: Karl Anderson's obsession with Maria Kanellis was equally as entertaining as Castle-Young, but the candle burned brighter and went out sooner. This would have also won for comedy segments of the year, both for the interludes Anderson would take mid-match to dance towards Maria, and for the interviews afterward when he'd say he came "this close" to kissing her.
Podcast of the Year: Tempting to also give this one to Anderson (and company) for their ridiculous and irreverent Talk N Shop (certainly the funniest wrestling podcast), but I have to give the award to Cheap Heat, because I can listen to it at work for an hour, and it saves me from having to watch 3 hours of Raw at home.
Best Turn: Tetsuya "The Stardust Genius" Naito was solid in the NJPW roster as a white-meat babyface. He'd had some career highs a couple years back, but had faded back to the midcard and seemed to have settled there pretty neatly. Slapping hands, kissing babies, and just wanting to put on the best match possible (win or lose) was the order of the day for the Naito of 2014. A year later, he's the leader of a growing stable of black-clad rule-shirkers, and is using his new character to draw incredible energy out of his matches. He's proved over and over that not only can his matches not be missed, but they must be watched without blinking, lest the viewer miss something dastardly and cool.
Best Event of the Year: G1 Climax 25. All 4 weeks of it, hard to beat that. Shoutout to the MVP of the tourney, Tomohiro Ishii. He wasn't the only one who had nothing but great matches in the 100-match series, but he was particularly impressive. He turned 40 a couple weeks ago.
Wrestling Website of the Year: Spare Change Wrestling Online. We are the dog's balls, the rat's twats, and the cat's pajamas. I'm not sure how complementary that really is, but who am I to argue with the census takers?
Top 5 matches of the year:
Before I list these off, I have to qualify my opinions by admitting I haven't seen the majority of wrestling which has happened on Earth for the past 12 months. That being said...
5. Kyle O'Reilly vs. Ricochet/ Roderick Strong, Black Cole Sun, 12/12/14, PWG
Technically, this match happened last year, but was released for general viewing this year, and it would be a shame to skip over it. These were really two matches, but I'm combining them because O'Reilly wrestled them back-to-back, and it's his performance that is really being highlighted here. The first match, a world title challenge earned by Ricochet, was a styles clash that proved each competitor to be a master of his own multifaceted game, and they took each other to their limit. When Roddy came out afterward and goaded O'Reilly into giving him a title match, it seemed impossible, but O'Reilly indulged a whole other high-octane match, working to a totally different style, but keeping the momentum of the narrative at full throttle. By the end of the night, he'd held the crowd in the palm of his hand for about an hour, through two completely different matches. I didn't make room for the category last year, but if I'd thought of it, Ricochet definitely would've won Wrestler of the Year, for having won the Super Junior and King of LA tournaments, as well as being the first gaijin Dragongate champ and making his tv debut on Lucha Underground. This match was the last feather in his cap of an incredible year. For Roddy, this is no exception in the force-of-nature run he's had across the indies, which probably brought him back up to his rightful place toward the top of the ROH card.
4. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, NXT:Takeover Brooklyn, 8/22/15, WWE
One of the most fun things about being a wrestling fan is getting emotionally invested in your favorite characters, and allowing yourself to be manipulated by the machinations of the matches they have. I don't think I've ever had as many "happy wrestling tears" as I did when watching this amazing match unfold. This isn't on the list to give some kind of pity point to WWE/NXT, this was legitimately one of the best matches of the year, and it might be the most memorable when I'm thinking back 5 years from now.
3. Kazuchika Okada vs. AJ Styles, King of Pro-Wrestling, 10/11/15, NJPW
I watched this with the Poncho Man a few days after it happened. The audio cut out mid-way through the event, and we were bantering and snacking to make up for the silence, until the main event came on. It was the awesomest feeling, because we were so mesmerized, the silence only punctuated how cool the match was. Both of these guys were top-level standouts in the G1 Climax. Okada's been amazing for a few years, and has kept getting even better, it's awesome to see a legend in the making. AJ set the world on fire this year, continuing his hot streaks in New Japan and ROH, as well as memorable turns in Revolution Pro, Chikara, and lots of other, smaller promotions all over the place.
2. Jay Lethal vs. Roderick Strong, Death Before Dishonor XIII, 7/14/15, ROH
I think my favorite wrestling moment of the year, if I had to put my finger right on it, would be the moment I realized this match was going to go the whole hour. At about 40-45 minutes in, it was especially exciting because they'd shown no signs of playing for time. There are very few movies I enjoy as much as a super-good movie-length wrestling match, and this was like a Terminator 2-level bad-assery. Jay Lethal's had a stellar and decorated year, holding both the ROH TV title and their World Title for most of it. Now that I'm thinking more about it, the wrestling moment of the year was when Lethal won the World Title from Jay Briscoe. That was a jump up and jump around and shout event.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi, Wrestle Kingdom 9, 1/4/15, NJPW
Right after it was over, Poncho and I agreed it would be hard to beat as match of the year. Since then, I've shown this match to wrestling virgins no less than 7 times, and each time I felt a smug satisfaction knowing what a treat they were in for. This match was so easy to read that every person I showed it to was completely transported, and became actively engaged in its plot, as though it were any kind of ballgame or film. It's a perfect example of storytelling within the match, which is so much more interesting, engaging, and artful than expositional dialogue.
I couldn't decide on a Promotion of the Year. I loved New Japan and ROH equally. AJ Styles is my Wrestler of the Year, given the quality, scope and prodigiousness of his year's work. I'm split between reDRagon and New Day for Tag Team of the Year. Kevin Owens wins TV Debut of the Year. Seth Rollins probably wins for something. How about Biggest Hole Left in Absence of the Year? CM Punk wins Best MMA Fighter of the Year. WWE wins Worst Use of Over Talent of the Year for taking Damien Sandow off TV. Vampiro wins Entrance of the Year, for his match with Pentagon Jr (another great match). Maybe I'll think of more later. What have you guys got?