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Wrestling Observer Awards: Our Team's Top Choices, pt. 2


After making our choices for the first half of the major category Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards yesterday, our team is back today to make our picks for Match of the Year, Fight of the Year, Promotion of the Year, and the rest of the awards. Our participants are:

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Best Flying Wrestler

This is for the wrestler who does the most innovative and solidly executed flying maneuvers within the context of putting together great wrestling matches. This is not for simply the hottest daredevil moves, which are sometimes hit and sometimes miss.

Bryan Rose: Will Ospreay owns this category. Just a tremendous high flying wrestler in an era where there are many insane high flyers.

Paul Fontaine: Will Ospreay. I’ve been watching wrestling since the mid-70s and I’ve never seen anyone do the things I’ve seen him do in just a few matches.

Mike DellaCamera: With Ricochet toning down the flying a bit, this is very clearly Will Ospreay. A spectacular flyer in every sense, he makes the incredible look routine.

Ryan Frederick: Will Ospreay. It's him or Ricochet, but Osprey has been flying more and it has been really fun this year watching him move.

Joseph Currier: There are other high flyers at least close to being as athletic and talented as Will Ospreay is, but no one is as willing to consistently do as many mind-blowing moves. He'll likely have to slow down at some point before his ambition catches up with him, but he had one of the best years that a high flyer has ever had.

Kyle S. Johnson: Will Ospreay, and it isn’t even that close.

Brian Hoops: Ricochet. Will Ospreay was close in an era of some amazing high flyers.

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Most Overrated

The wrestler who gets the biggest push, despite lacking ring ability or charisma.

Kyle S. Johnson: My immediate inclination is to say Roman Reigns because he is not even remotely over to the level of his push, but I’m also inclined to go with Nia Jax because she is nowhere near ready enough for the main roster.

I’ll stick with my gut and go with Reigns because his WWE Championship runs in the voting period completely fizzled out, he briefly lost his main event push not for bombing with audiences but by virtue of failing a drug test, and he has since done absolutely nothing to improve the value of the United States Championship.

Mike DellaCamera: Cody Rhodes. Cody Rhodes is fine, which is really all I can say about him. None of his matches since leaving WWE have lived up to the hype, and he’s worked with some of the best in the world. Hopefully Cody in NJPW can make me care in 2017.

Brian Hoops: Sheamus. I can’t change the channel fast enough when he is on TV. Sad, as he is paired with Cesaro.

Paul Fontaine: I have to go with Reigns here. It’s not even that he’s that bad, it’s just that he’s not near good enough to justify the amount of juice WWE is putting behind him.

Joseph Currier: I thought that Cody Rhodes got too big of a push before he even left WWE, where he seemed to think that he was underutilized. He’s had a few good matches since leaving the company, but he’s been treated as a star that is far above his ability. His work at Final Battle was promising after the voting period was over, and hopefully he can excel in ROH and NJPW, but his indie run has almost always been disappointing.

Ryan Frederick: Sheamus. I really don't know with this one. I'm going against the grain and not picking Roman Reigns. Sheamus has been fine but they push him more than his ability deserves.

Bryan Rose: Baron Corbin has potential but still has a long way to go to be where WWE wants him. I kind of feel bad voting for him as I think he’s improved a lot in the last year, and seems to be finding a better role on SmackDown in the last few weeks but still isn’t what I’d call great or anything yet, especially when he’s now being put in main events.

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Most Underrated

The wrestler with the most ability, who, for whatever reason, doesn't get a push commensurate with their ability. This should be based on this past year, and not a business reputation earned in prior years.

Joseph Currier: Cesaro may win this category for the rest of his career if he never gets a legitimate run at the top. It's probably worth trying him at that level, but I didn't have much of a problem with how he was booked last year.

Neville's extended absence from TV in 2016 even after returning from injury should win him this award. He's been one of the best parts of WWE programming since coming back while elevating the cruiserweight division with his presence. There's no valid reason that he shouldn't have been part of the introduction of the division.

Bryan Rose: They finally seem to be doing something with Neville, but he’s done nothing for the majority of this year. Granted, he was out a few months with an ankle injury but he had been cleared forever and did so little. Given his immense talent, it’s just downright silly they couldn’t find a role for him until the cruiserweight division began. And even then, they waited three months before actually putting him there.

Kyle S. Johnson: Neville. Like gravity, WWE seemed to have forgotten Neville’s existence in 2016, leaving him almost entirely out of the mix during the early going of the brand split where talent was so desperately needed.

This seems to be getting reversed at last with his thus-far incredibly fun positioning as the monster heel of the cruiserweight division, but for having been wasted or ignored for so long after returning from injury, Neville gets it this year. Cesaro is always a top contender because he’s a bona fide main eventer, but 2016 was quite frankly the closest WWE has been to actually recognizing his talents, so perhaps there’s hope for 2017.

Brian Hoops: Neville. Granted he was injured for part of the year, but was largely not pushed or squashed when he did wrestle.

Paul Fontaine: Yes, he just won a tag team title, but that was not in the voting period for the awards and they could have done so much more with Cesaro. Until he gets a main event program, he will always have my vote.

Mike DellaCamera: Unfortunately Cesaro will probably win this category as long as he is in the WWE.

Ryan Frederick: Cesaro. He should be in world title contention but they never pull the trigger. He's a top five worker in the WWE.

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Promotion of the Year

Should be based on which group put together the best live and television product on a consistent basis, and secondarily, the ability to sell that product at a high level. This means box office and marketing combined with product quality. Theoretically, the top pick should be a company at or near the top on both categories.

Paul Fontaine: It’s not just that they drew more money, the UFC consistently put on good to great shows and managed to increase their TV ratings during a period when ratings are on the decline in general.

Ryan Frederick: UFC. It's hard to pick against them especially since Zuffa sold them to WME-IMG for $4.2 billion. They've also had a really good year of fights and events.

Kyle S. Johnson: UFC. 2016 was a year of monster shows, monster buyrates, monster gates, and a monster sale to WME-IMG.

Brian Hoops: Hard to argue with the monster PPV year the UFC has had. NJPW was best wrestling promotion.

Bryan Rose: New Japan Pro Wrestling continues to be a hotbed of great pro wrestling action and storytelling. It’s not perfect, but it does a better job than any promotion out there. It also continues to thrive economically despite the departures of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura earlier in the year.

Joseph Currier: It’s been a year of highs and lows, but no promotion had as good of a year overall as WWE did. There are obviously still plenty of issues, and the company probably won’t win this category until three-hour Raws somehow become less of a chore. But they diversified their product greatly while putting out a variety of quality content. SmackDown and Talking Smack became must-watch shows every week, while the Cruiserweight Classic provided a few months of some of the best WWE programming ever.

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Best Weekly TV Show

Weekly television shows are the only ones eligible, not monthly shows, specials or individual episodes of a specific program. This is for the best consistent program. The shows have to be produced with the idea they are a weekly ongoing show and not a short-term mini-series.

Kyle S. Johnson: SmackDown Live with Talking Smack a close second. The brand split could have been a disastrous thing, but it has led to a creative resurgence for SmackDown, which has consistently had the most compelling storylines and best writing of any WWE product. With Raw, you can get the gist of things from a quick recap or a condensed version of the show; more often, SmackDown tends to feel like must-watch stuff.

Joseph Currier: SmackDown was too mediocre for too much of the voting period prior to the brand split to get my vote. But Talking Smack has been incredible for nearly the entirety of its run. It’s hard to consider a show that doesn’t feature any in-ring action as the best weekly TV show of the year, but it’s really provided a fresh spin on using talking to advance character development.

For too long, we’ve heard the same overly scripted in-ring promos used to eat up TV segments. Talking Smack should have given WWE a look at what would be the best way to present their characters going forward.

Bryan Rose: SmackDown has been consistently good since the brand split, so it gets my vote. Maybe it’s the two-hour thing, but it seems way more cohesive than Raw, which does a great job of dragging things out and making everything feel sterile and bland. SmackDown is on point, usually has a good match or two, and most segments are pretty fun to watch. NXT has felt way too bland this year to be considered for this award, and I think Lucha Underground is too stuck in its own lore to be considered anymore.

Paul Fontaine: If I could only watch one show a week, it would be Talking Smack so that gets my vote.

Mike DellaCamera: SmackDown Live. As the year progressed, I found myself caring more about what happens on SmackDown than I do Raw. The stories make sense, are logical, and are capped off with good wrestling. It’s Raw with all the fat trimmed off.

Ryan Frederick: Talking Smack. It has no in-ring action but it is far and away the most entertaining wrestling show put on, and it does so much for the characters. Not to mention that it had some of the best promos of the year. Really, the Cruiserweight Classic should win this award but the voting rules make it ineligible.

Alan4L: CWF Mid-Atlantic Worldwide. The best thing in wrestling that nobody realizes. Brad Stutts and his crew put together the most well thought out, easy to digest, wrestling television I’ve seen in years. The show has also been home to three of the best matches of 2016 in Trevor Lee’s title bouts with Roy Wilkins, Andrew Everett, and Cedric Alexander.

Brian Hoops: ROH. Consistent wrestling and good TV angles each and every week. 

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Pro Wrestling Match of the Year

Remember, matches from last December are eligible, but nothing after November 30th from this year is eligible.

Mike DellaCamera: The Revival vs. DIY from NXT TakeOver: Toronto for me is the match of the year, and one of the best tag team matches in recent memory. The two-out-of-three falls stipulation was perfect here, as it completely raised the stakes of even the slightest in-ring movement. A spectacularly wrestled match that could have only been better if The Revival retained, because The Revival should always be the champs.

Kyle S. Johnson: Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito on August 13th in the B Block Finals of the 2016 G1 Climax. It was a close call between this and the exceptional story told between Okada and Tanahashi at WK 10, but Omega and Naito turned it up to a completely different level here. I went back and watched this match twice after seeing it for the first time, and it’s pretty likely that I’ll be returning to it again with a great degree of regularity in the future.

Joseph Currier: This was maybe the most difficult choice for me of any category. I ultimately went with Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada from the Tokyo Dome show. I'm not sure that I liked it better than their match the year prior, but it was at least on par with the unreal standard that the two have set.

There's nothing I enjoy more in wrestling than Tanahashi in a big match spot, but I also heavily considered DIY vs. The Revival from TakeOver: Toronto and Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll from PROGRESS Chapter 25.

Ryan Frederick: Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito. Just a fantastic all-around match in the B Block Finals of the G1, and both men had great matches this year. A real hard selection in a year of a lot of great matches.

Alan4L: Okada vs. Tanahashi from the Dome. An amazing, incredible final chapter to the best rivalry of the era.

Brian Hoops: The Revival vs. DIY from NXT TakeOver: Toronto. Loved the two-out-of-three falls concept and the old school way it was worked. Reminded me of the Eddie Guerrero/Love Machine match from When Worlds Collide. Nakamura vs. Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10 is a close second.

Bryan Rose: Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii was a stupendous match in a year where there were a ton of stupendous matches. But there is something about the way Ishii works a match that just makes it so compelling to watch. I think it is the way he sells; he may be proof that even though people sell, no one sells like they should...except for Tomohiro Ishii. The match had everything, from great wrestling to a hot crowd. What more could you ask for?

Paul Fontaine: Volador Jr. vs Cavernario from the finals of CMLL’s Reyes Del Aire tournament takes this for me. This match had everything and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. I don’t watch as much CMLL as I’d like to but this made me seek out more matches involving both of these guys.

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MMA Match of the Year

Remember, matches from last December are eligible, but nothing after November 30th from this year is eligible.

Paul Fontaine: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II was an awesome fight where both guys left everything they had in the cage. McGregor squeaked out a win in what will set up a third fight that will likely draw even more money down the road. Pro wrestling wishes they could book something this good.

Brian Hoops: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II was the best MMA match in a year of several great matches.

Ryan Frederick: Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit. It was two men known for exciting fights delivering a hard-hitting slugfest with a title on the line. The fifth round of that fight was epic and exciting. It was such a fantastic fight.

Kyle S. Johnson: Dong Hyun Kim vs. Marco Polo Reyes on June 4th on the UFC 199 Prelims. This was close for me, just narrowly edging out Lawler vs. Condit by the slightest of margins. Man, what a fight this was.

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Rookie of the Year

This is based on ring performance, not how someone is pushed or necessarily even long-term star potential. By the standards of the category, a rookie is someone who hasn't had a regular job with a full-time wrestling company before September 1st, 2015.

Alan Boon: Matt Riddle has "it." I'm not sure what "it" is but you know it when you see it, and Matt Riddle is in secure possession of the intangible. For someone with so little time in the professional game, he shows an astonishing level of comfort between the ropes, and has been able to parlay his MMA background into a realistic style, something that has evaded many similar athletes. If there are issues preventing him finding a spot in WWE or Japan then that's just what it is, because there's a realness to him that's part of the appeal.

Joseph Currier: It's impossible to understate what a special talent Matt Riddle already is at this point in his career. He has seemed to grasp the fundamentals effortlessly, while also knowing how to present himself as a character and personality. He has everything it takes to be a legitimate top star wherever he goes.

Mike DellaCamera: Matt Riddle. Already an absolute star. There is no realistic limit to his ceiling as a wrestler, Bro.

Bryan Rose: Matt Riddle is really, really good one year into his career. I’d love to see where he goes from here as he can go anywhere and be a star at this point.

Paul Fontaine: Matt Riddle.

Ryan Frederick: Matt Riddle. He has made such a great transition from MMA to wrestling, and he's such a natural. He’s already a star. He's only going to get better too.

Kyle S. Johnson: Matt Riddle. In such a finite amount of time, this guy has already become a must-see star. He’s someone you look at and can almost immediately envision walking down the aisle at a WrestleMania.

Brian Hoops: Matt Riddle. It’s almost ridiculous how good this guy has become this quickly.

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Best Non-Wrestler Performer

For the best performer on a television show who isn't a traditional wrestler, whether they be a management figure or a traditional manager.

Joseph Currier: Daniel Bryan again finding a regular role on WWE TV has been one of the best parts about SmackDown since the brand split. Having a face authority presence has really helped differentiate SmackDown from Raw, while Bryan's honesty on Talking Smack is vital to making that show work.

Ryan Frederick: Daniel Bryan. It's hard seeing him not wrestle, but he's been good in the GM role on SmackDown, and has been fantastic on Talking Smack.

Kyle S. Johnson: I’ll go with Daniel Bryan for his phenomenal work on Talking Smack and his contribution to making The Miz one of 2016’s most surprising success stories.

Paul Fontaine: Dario Cueto is in a class by himself, in my opinion.

Brian Hoops: Dario Cueto. Very good for his role.

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Best Television Announcer

Bryan Rose: I get some of the criticism people throw at Mauro Ranallo when it comes to his announcing, and they are pretty warranted, but he’s still the best announcer WWE has and it’s not even close. I’ll go with constant Japanese references over the inhumanely robotic Michael Cole any day.

Ryan Frederick: Mauro Ranallo. He's very good and was great on the Cruiserweight Classic shows. He's also very different from the typical WWE announcer, and a very good different.

Kyle S. Johnson: Mauro Ranallo. From the Cruiserweight Classic to SmackDown, this guy exudes a level of knowledge, class, and intelligence that WWE programming has been sorely missing at the commentary table since the departure of Jim Ross.

Brian Hoops: Mauro Ranallo is simply the best in the business.

Paul Fontaine: Mauro Ranallo. It’s so nice to see him finally get his dream job and he delivered in a big way.

Mike DellaCamera: Corey Graves. He works three shows, (Raw, NXT, 205 Live) and makes each one of them exponentially better. It’s a testament to his skill that he has tremendous chemistry with such a diverse set of broadcast partners. And I know it’s technically outside of the timeframe for the awards, but his reaction to Sami Zayn being "traded straight up for Eva Marie" was the commentary moment of the year.

Alan4L: Brad Stutts. Legitimately one of the best wrestling commentators I’ve ever heard. A modern take on old school 80s announcing and it’s so good. Brad enhances great matches and makes them classics.

Joseph Currier: Lenny Leonard's professionalism helps make every EVOLVE show feel like a big deal. He's done a great job of always putting the product first and elevating what's going on in the ring. He's especially worked well when put in the tough position of being the only voice on EVOLVE's broadcast team.

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Worst Television Announcer

Bryan Rose: There are so many different definitions of bad in this category. You can go with grating (JBL), robotically sterilized (Michael Cole), or bland as all hell (Byron Saxton, Tom Phillips, David Otunga). But I think I will go with Matt Striker, who by now I think is not only self aware that he’s pretty bad, but has responded by becoming a parody of himself, going out of his way to be amazingly awful in every capacity when it comes to being an announcer. At least with others I can tune them out; I can’t with Matt Striker.

Brian Hoops: So many to choose from. Matt Striker is a guy who I loved to listen to eight years ago and is now the worst in the business.

Kyle S. Johnson: Perhaps the most hotly-contested award of the bunch, I’m almost inclined to call this a tie between David Otunga and Matt Striker, who both narrowly beat out Josh Mathews, JBL, Byron Saxton, and Michael Cole. All six of these guys have been infuriating at some point or another throughout the year, though Otunga seems to be on a completely different level of ineptitude.

His commentary is like what I would imagine it might sound like if you gave a headset and microphone to the yawning void of the furthest, emptiest reaches of space and asked for its opinion on AJ Styles’ strategy in a triple threat match, only I suspect that the cold and insentient vacuum at the fringe of our solar system might possess more knowledge about professional wrestling than David.

Still, Striker’s grating commentary for Lucha Underground would be enough to pull him into a close race with Otunga on its own merits, but his abysmal and embarrassing performance at Triplemania alone -- including the call of “doing it for Benghazi” on a tope con giro and a prolonged segment where he ranted insipidly at Twitter -- blows away even Otunga’s hair-tearing cluelessness. We’re talking Lou Albano at Heroes of Wrestling levels of bad.

Paul Fontaine: Striker is annoying. David Otunga is useless. Byron Saxton is just plain horrible. It’s close but I think it has to be Saxton.

Ryan Frederick: Byron Saxton. It's rough listening to him for over three hours several times a month. He tries too hard to be funny and it's amazing how bad he is when he has someone next to him who is so good in Corey Graves.

Mike DellaCamera: David Otunga. There are no shortage of candidates, but Otunga is just abysmal. He has no character, no charisma, and weirdly bashes people with infinitely more talent than he will ever have. All due respect to Byron Saxton, who would win this in any other year, but no one is in Otunga’s league.


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Best Major Show

This should be a major show, as opposed to a TV taping or house show, although TV specials like Saturday Night's Main Event or Ultimate Fight Night are eligible.

Kyle S. Johnson: Wrestle Kingdom 10 on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome. UFC 199 is a very close second, so much so that I started writing it up as my selection before having a change of heart. NXT TakeOver: Dallas and UFC 202 are right there as well, but nothing quite tops the 2016 Dome show for me. The final three matches on the card were all heavy contenders for my personal match of the year with each bringing something different to the table.

Shibata vs. Ishii was a violent war that left me cringing more than once, Nakamura vs. Styles could not have been a more perfect send-off for two guys who wound up successfully making the leap to WWE soon thereafter, and Okada vs. Tanahashi told an amazing story that rewarded fans for being familiar with the history between two of New Japan’s modern-day greats. Really, the thing separating WK 10 and UFC 199 in the end was the completely insane Doraemon skit during the pre-show, which deserves some sort of special distinction itself for fueling many of my waking nightmares in the months that followed.

Brian Hoops: Wrestle Kingdom 10 on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome. There were several NXT TakeOver shows that were close.

Ryan Frederick: UFC 199 in June. It started with one of the best fights of the year with Polo Reyes against Dong Hyun Kim. It ended up with a lot of incredible moments, from Dan Henderson scoring the final win of his career in spectacular fashion, to Max Holloway and Ricardo Lamas throwing down in the final seconds of their fight, capped off with Michael Bisping capturing the UFC Middleweight Championship after a long career by knocking out Luke Rockhold. A fantastic event all around.

Joseph Currier: Wrestle Kingdom 10 was the weakest of the past three Tokyo Dome shows, but the quality of the top matches and it taking place on the biggest stage possible will likely deliver a fairly safe win. But I'm going with NJPW's King of Pro Wrestling show from October, which I felt was more complete than WK and was similarly topped by three great matches.

Paul Fontaine: I was there live so this may have influenced my vote but it’s really tough to top NXT TakeOver: Dallas. A packed house, a rabid crowd, and matches that were great on paper and even better in execution. I’ve been a wrestling fan my whole life and have never had more fun at a show.