About Us  |   Contact

Wrestling Observer Awards: Our Team's Top Choices, pt. 1

Though cases for next year are already being made, midnight tonight marks the end of the voting period for the 2016 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards. Our staff has been toiling over their ballots just like readers have, so we've compiled a list of our top choices for the 24 "Category A" awards.

As a reminder, the awards calendar covers December 1st, 2015 through November 30th, 2016.

We'll look at the first 12 categories today, including the Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Award for Wrestler of the Year, Most Outstanding Wrestler, MMA Most Valuable Fighter, and Most Outstanding Fighter. Our participants are:

Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Award (Wrestler of the Year)

This is open to pro wrestlers, for a combination of everything, being both important and influential this year in a positive manner from a business perspective, combining both box office impact as well as strong match quality in worked matches.

Joseph Currier: The significance of AJ Styles’ year won’t soon be forgotten and he was a fairly easy choice for me. His stellar in-ring work was almost matched by what he did as a character and promo while helping lead the rejuvenation of SmackDown after the brand split. It was long in doubt that Styles would ever get this opportunity, but he delivered in the biggest way possible when he did.

Paul Fontaine: AJ Styles. He carried the WWE in my opinion with John Cena gone for much of the year.

Kyle S. Johnson: This one is a toss-up between AJ Styles and Kenny Omega, but the fact that he was able to transition so quickly from greatness in New Japan to greatness in WWE secures Styles the advantage. Even when his booking wasn’t great -- the more done to wipe out the idea of Styles as a “redneck rookie,” the better -- Styles was an exceptional performer in the ring who put on some great matches with the likes of Jericho and Reigns.

Once Styles’ booking started clicking -- from the formation of The Club to a clean win over John Cena at SummerSlam to his WWE Championship victory -- he was fully able to show the WWE audience at large why he’s perceived as one of the best on the planet. That he’s only gotten better in terms of his promo ability and seems able to drag four-star matches out of any situation suggests that this may be his award for the foreseeable future.

Ryan Frederick: AJ Styles. It's between him and Kenny Omega, but AJ has been consistently the best performer in the business, has accomplished more than anyone thought he would with his WWE run, and he should win this two years in a row.

Brian Hoops: AJ Styles. No one worked better matches night in and night out than Styles. He carried the SmackDown brand after the split.

Mike DellaCamera: Kenny Omega. Losing AJ Styles plus Gallows and Anderson to the WWE placed the spotlight and leadership of the Bullet Club in Omega’s hands. With more eyes on him than ever, Omega took his game to new heights, constantly and consistently putting on great matches whenever the situation arose.

Alan4L: Kazuchika Okada. He was New Japan’s rock in a year where they needed one to steady the ship. So many key players left the company, and while we had guys like Naito and Omega rise up, it would have meant nothing without the linchpin of the whole thing -- The Rainmaker.

In-ring, Okada had his best year yet with classics against Tanahashi, Ishii, Marufuji, and Naito. He was also one of the hardest working guys when it came to the tags that proliferate the majority of NJPW cards.

MMA Most Valuable Fighter

This is also for a combination of fighting inside the ring and importance outside in a positive manner from a business perspective as well.

Bryan Rose: Even though he lost his first match against Nate Diaz, I don’t think there is anyone more important to the sport of mixed martial arts right now than Conor McGregor. This was the year where he became the first person in UFC history to hold two titles in two different weight classes.

His punching power is insane. His fights are spectacular and do tremendous PPV business, rivaling that of the biggest boxing bouts. To me there is no one more valuable in the sport right now than this man, no matter what the win/loss record was this year.

Ryan Frederick: Conor McGregor. Look what he's done in the voting period from December to November. Two world titles in two different weight classes at the same time. Even losing to Nate Diaz can't derail his accomplishments. He's by far the most valuable fighter in terms of everything.

Kyle S. Johnson: There is no answer other than Conor McGregor. At a point where the disappearance of Ronda Rousey could have been disastrous for business, Conor easily stepped into the role of the face of the UFC and became every bit the household name. Even his loss to Nate Diaz provided value for UFC, making their rematch at UFC 202 a massive success and must-watch event.

Joseph Currier: Conor McGregor had such a standout year in the voting period that he almost became too valuable to the UFC. It's a great problem to have, but McGregor has more power than ever as the only viable mega-draw in the company. There's no doubt that he'll be wielding that power soon.

Paul Fontaine: Has to be Conor McGregor.

Brian Hoops: Conor McGregor. Despite losing once during the year, he still won two titles in two different weight classes, drawing the biggest buyrates in history in the process.

Most Outstanding Wrestler

This is based on working ability in the ring only. Simply, the best workers in the world on a consistent basis over the past year. Drawing power, charisma, and push shouldn't be considered.

Kyle S. Johnson: Another category that seemingly boils down to Kenny Omega and AJ Styles. Omega was amazing throughout the year, particularly in his ladder match with Michael Elgin and in the G1 tournament. But, once again, I’ll give Styles the edge here, though it’s very, very close.

From his match with Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 10 to his Extreme Rules match with Roman Reigns to his SummerSlam match with John Cena, Styles has been nothing short of -- get ready for it -- Phenomenal.

Mike DellaCamera: AJ Styles. It didn’t matter if AJ was working with John Cena, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, or even James Ellsworth -- Styles put on very good to great matches with all of them. Regardless of the company or continent he was wrestling on, no one brought out the best in their opponents more than AJ this year.

Brian Hoops: Two guys stood out this year, Styles and Kenny Omega. Styles gets the edge as Omega sometimes got too creative with foreign objects.

Bryan Rose: Kenny Omega has been consistently awesome in his matches this year. Whether it was against Michael Elgin, Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito or teaming with The Young Bucks in great six-man tags, Omega has never had a disappointing bout this year, and completely deserves this year’s honor.

Ryan Frederick: Kenny Omega. He's had fantastic matches this year and has stepped up his game. There's a lot of contenders for this award, but he really stands out this year.

Alan4L: Tomohiro Ishii. He had two of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen in his matches against Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada. Underneath that he had a slew of great matches against a whole variety of wrestlers. Was arguably the MVP of the G1.

Joseph Currier: No other wrestler came close to matching the amount of great, diverse matches in the voting period that Chris Hero had. He traveled around the country (and beyond) regularly having the match of the night in so many promotions. He gave so many wrestlers their best match of the year and always seemed to get the most out of the person across the ring from him.

Paul Fontaine: I went with Will Ospreay. After all the hype surrounding him before I finally got a chance to watch him, I thought there was no way he could live up to it. I was wrong.

Most Outstanding Fighter

This should be based on in-ring ability and wins against the top level of competition during the calendar year.

Ryan Frederick: Stipe Miocic. He won the UFC Heavyweight Championship this year, and won three fights by first-round knockout over opponents all ranked in the top five at the time. He's had a fantastic year.

Kyle S. Johnson: Stipe Miocic. Three fights in 2016, three first-round knockouts, two “Performance of the Night” bonuses, one “Fight of the Night” bonus, one UFC Heavyweight Championship. Were this a December-to-December vote, the winner here would be Amanda Nunes, hands down.

Brian Hoops: Stipe Miocic. Three first-round knockouts in three fights, including winning the UFC Heavyweight title.

Paul Fontaine: Amanda Nunes. Won the bantamweight title in dominant fashion after beating Valentina Shevchenko, who went on to beat the previous champ.

Best Box Office Draw

Based on drawing big houses (or for that matter selling tickets to small houses as the case may be), buy rates and/or television ratings. Ring work shouldn't even be considered.

Paul Fontaine: It has to be Conor McGregor here as well, although I gave consideration to Holly Holm, who drew a big number on FOX in addition to being an important part of UFC 196. But McGregor headlined four shows that all drew over a million PPV buys, making this a cakewalk.

Bryan Rose: No one touches Conor McGregor this year in this category. I think even if Ronda Rousey were around, she’d have trouble keeping up with him. This was the year Conor went from being a draw to being a really valuable attraction.

Ryan Frederick: Conor McGregor. It can't be anyone else. Four events that did over a million buys on PPV. Three of them are among the four biggest UFC PPVs of all time. Massive gates for the events he headlined. This is a no-doubter.

Kyle S. Johnson: Conor McGregor by what probably amounts to a couple thousand country miles.

Brian Hoops: Conor McGregor. It’s not even close.

Feud of the Year

This should be based on a combination of having a compelling storyline along with having great matches that should strengthen the box office.

Ryan Frederick: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz. The whole point of this award is which feud drew the most. That is McGregor vs. Diaz running away. They also built both fights well during press conferences, had two great fights, and had the most attention.

Paul Fontaine: McGregor vs. Diaz has to win here. Not just for the money they drew but their second fight may also have been the best MMA fight of the year.

Brian Hoops: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz. Biggest money drawing feud in UFC history.

Kyle S. Johnson: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz. This feud made Diaz a superstar and McGregor a household name. It also made a whole lot of people a whole lot of money. No other feud comes close. In terms of pro wrestling, my winner would be AJ Styles vs. John Cena for having successfully established Styles as a top-tier talent, followed by Samoa Joe vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Broken Matt vs. Brother Nero/The Broken Hardys vs. The Decay.

Alan4L: CHAOS vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon. This produced an endless amount of great six- and eight-man tags, plus some marquee singles bouts with Naito vs. Ishii and Naito vs. Okada.

Tag Team of the Year

For the best working and most valuable tag team during the previous year.

Alan4L: The Young Bucks. Matt and Nick exploded in the second half of the year, really cementing their spot as the best team going. They were involved in so much fun stuff in NJPW, PWG, and ROH.

Kyle S. Johnson: The Revival. Dash and Dawson went from being chided by NXT’s faithful for being indistinguishable (inexplicably) to putting on three or four of the best matches in WWE all year. These two more than live up to the distinction of being Top Guys -- irrespective of how many veterans they may rile up along the way -- and seem destined for further greatness in 2017.

Joseph Currier: This is an impossibly difficult choice to make between The Revival and The Young Bucks. Both teams excelled in big matches, with The Revival consistently a bright spot on TakeOver cards and the Bucks doing great work in PWG and ROH along with their NJPW duties.

If I were grading solely on big match performances, I think The Revival would barely be my top choice. But more depth from The Young Bucks (partially due to a lot of The Revival's work being at unaired house shows) gets them my vote.

Mike DellaCamera: The Revival. As hard as it is to not vote for The Young Bucks, I have a feeling that Dash and Dawson’s names are going to show up on a lot of 'Top 10 Matches of the Year’ lists.

Bryan Rose: This is a tough choice between The Young Bucks and The Revival. They’re two completely different tag teams but both are really awesome. I think I’ll go with the Bucks only because they wrestled more and have a bigger library of great matches this year. Revival are awesome and always deliver in a big time tag team match, but didn’t get as may opportunities as the Bucks to really shine.

Ryan Frederick: The Revival. It's hard to beat The Young Bucks, but The Revival were fantastic this year. Their big matches on NXT TakeOver specials all delivered no matter the opponents. They deserve the recognition this year.

Paul Fontaine: The Young Bucks.

Brian Hoops: The Revival. Went from unrecognizable to the most respected team in wrestling. They had fantastic matches throughout the year and carried the entire NXT division.

Most Improved

This is based on making the biggest strides in ring work during the previous year. This should not be for someone who was already good, but was given a bigger push.

Mike DellaCamera: Alexa Bliss. Still improving in the ring, Bliss went from NXT afterthought to the SmackDown Women’s Champion in the span of a year. Her character and mic work are fantastic, and if she continues to improve in the ring, the sky's the limit.

Ryan Frederick: Alexa Bliss. She has gone from someone who might have been in NXT for a while to a champion on SmackDown, and everything she has done on the WWE main roster has gotten better.

Kyle S. Johnson: Alexa Bliss. Where Carmella and Dana Brooke have had difficulty getting their feet set since coming up from NXT, Bliss has taken the ball she was handed and run with it. She only stands to improve more in 2017, and that can only mean better things for SmackDown’s women’s division.

Brian Hoops: Baron Corbin. Went from not very good to decent and now can be seen as a main eventer over the course of a year.

Alan4L: Sanada. The former All Japan star had fallen on hard times as a performer from 2013 to 2015. He looked like a lost cause until a run in Big Japan under the watchful eye of Daisuke Sekimoto revitalized his performances. That allowed him to hit the ground running when he landed in New Japan in April and he’s been a fantastic addition to the roster.

Joseph Currier: It's hard to quantify how much of his improvement was just finding the right role, but The Miz is now easily one of the best parts of weekly WWE programming. Bringing back Maryse has really helped his character, and his work in the ring has improved to the point where it's regularly excellent. He's gotten so much better that his role as Intercontinental Champion almost seems below his performance at this point.

Best on Interviews

Who has given the best interviews on a consistent basis over the past year? Reputation from previous years shouldn't be taken into consideration. It should be based on work over the course of the year as opposed to one or two memorable interviews.

Paul Fontaine: Conor McGregor consistently is entertaining while also drawing money with his mouth, which is not easy to do.

Bryan Rose: Conor McGregor. Again, absolutely no one touches him here.

Kyle S. Johnson: Conor McGregor. Six words: “Who the f*ck is that guy?”

Ryan Frederick: Conor McGregor. No one touches him.

Mike DellaCamera: I'll stick with wrestling here and say The Miz. The brand split gave Miz more time on camera and he has risen to the occasion. He had the promo of the year on Talking Smack and has proven it wasn’t a one-off -- he is by far the best promo in WWE right now.

Joseph Currier: Conor McGregor probably has to win this, but I'd go with The Miz for best wrestling promo as well. His mic and character work has made him maybe the best natural heel in WWE.

Alan4L: Kenny Omega. Nobody engaged me more as a fan this year.

Brian Hoops: Paul Heyman.

Most Charismatic

What person had to do the least to get the most out of it? Who do crowds naturally react to emotionally even before the person does anything?

Bryan Rose: Shinsuke Nakamura still can do very little and people are all over him. I think it’s a toss-up this year between him and Conor, and since I’ve gushed about Conor in like three different categories already I’ll go with Nakamura. He’d be the most over guy on either WWE roster fairly soon without doing much.

Joseph Currier: It shouldn't be surprising that Shinsuke Nakamura's charisma has translated as well as it has, but it's still interesting to see how he's been able to captivate the NXT audience. We'll see going forward how long he'll be able to get by mostly on his charisma as the freshness of him being in WWE wears off.

Mike DellaCamera: Shinsuke Nakamura. His presence alone makes every match feel like a big match, and he does it without hardly saying a word.

Ryan Frederick: Shinsuke Nakamura. Fans take to everything he does, they sing his song, and he has that aura even if it hasn't been his best in-ring year. He still has that charisma.

Kyle S. Johnson: Hard not to go with Conor McGregor here, but I’m picking Shinsuke Nakamura. It took him approximately two seconds to be the most charismatic guy in WWE, and while he’s looking to be in NXT for a while, it would be hard for even WWE’s machinations to strip him of that charisma when he does come to the main roster. Knock on wood.

Brian Hoops: Shinsuke Nakamura. Huge presence from the moment he comes out behind a curtain.

Paul Fontaine: Another win for Conor here, although Broken Matt Hardy gives him a run for his money.

Best Technical Wrestler

This is for having the ability to use high level technical wrestling moves within the context of building a great worked pro wrestling match.

Mike DellaCamera: Zack Sabre Jr. ZSJ didn't have quite the year he did last year, so it's a testament to his incredible talent that he still garners so much critical acclaim. Perhaps no nickname in wrestling is quite as fitting as The Technical Wizard.

Kyle S. Johnson: Zach Sabre Jr. The man is truly a technical wizard, and he showed that very fact in a number of different promotions this year.

Bryan Rose: I really enjoyed Zack Sabre Jr.’s technical work in the CWC and other places, so I’d go with him. I think if Jack Gallagher goes out there and does longer matches in the next year he could be a contender here too. But I go with Zack.

Ryan Frederick: Zack Sabre Jr. I've watched more of him this year and he has grown on me. His style may make people not enjoy him, but his work in the CWC, PWG, and EVOLVE, among other places has been real solid.

Brian Hoops: Zack Sabre Jr.

Joseph Currier: I’m going with Drew Gulak in this category. He had such an excellent year overall and made a solid most outstanding case. He has really developed as an all-around talent, but his technical ability is as sound as ever. ZSJ’s effortless escapology doesn’t bother me like it does some, but I do prefer the aggressiveness of Gulak’s mat work.

Bruiser Brody Memorial Award (Best Brawler)

This is for the wrestler who uses brawling tactics to put together the best matches during the previous year. It's not for a guy who does brawling matches that aren't any good.

Bryan Rose: To me, this is a battle between Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii, as both are known for their brutal, stiff style. I think I’ll give it to Shibata as he really destroyed himself this year in some incredible matches and was always taped up.

Mike DellaCamera: Katsuyori Shibata. I honestly have no idea how he wrestles the way he does. It’s incredible. No wrestler causes me to wince in pain more than Shibata, which gives him the slight edge over Ishii here.

Ryan Frederick: Katsuyori Shibata. It's him or Tomohiro Ishii, but Shibata has been more brutal this year in a good way.

Kyle S. Johnson: Katsuyori Shibata. Nobody else I’ve watched this year has made me reflexively yell and curse more.

Brian Hoops: Katsuyori Shibata.

Paul Fontaine: To me, it’s Tomohiro Ishii, who would also win my favorite wrestler award, if that were still a category.

Joseph Currier: As great as Shibata and Ishii are, Chris Hero takes this award for me. I thought he was the better brawler in his matches with both of those NJPW stars. His strikes are unparalleled in wrestling and add so much to all of his matches. He even had a really good brawl with Cody Rhodes for EVOLVE over SummerSlam weekend.

Check back in tomorrow, where we'll make our picks for Match of the Year, Fight of the Year, Promotion of the Year, and the rest of the Category A awards.