[Originally published on December 31, 2014]
This was truly a roller coaster of a year to be a fan of pro wrestling, especially here in the West. When it comes to WWE, everything leading up to and resulting from Wrestlemania 30 was spectacular, almost as much as how they practically cocked the whole thing up. For a lot of promotions, this felt like a huge setup year as I’m far more excited about what’s coming in 2015 than most of what I experienced here, yet there is still plenty of awesome wrasslin’ to check out.
On a funny note, I wrote, edited and published this post without even realizing that NXT and WWE laid claim to all of my top picks. That is genuinely shocking to me, especially since I watched more NJPW than anything.
Favorite Match of the Year:
Sami Zayn vs Cesaro (NXT, ArRival, February 27)
It’s the match that capulted both its competitors and brand into the spotlight and changed the course of the entire WWE.
For Sami Zayn it would be the kickoff of a banner year as the top babyface of WWE’s minor leagues, featuring numerous show stopping performances as well as the ultimate prize in the NXT Championship. In Cesaro’s case, it began his road to Wrestlemania where he’d capture the Andre the Giant Battle Royale Memorial trophy and ultimately more television time (despite how that all turned out).
As for the match itself? It’s one of the most pure pro wrestling matches WWE has ever produced, with stunning athleticism, storytelling and incredible growth from both competitors. As someone who has followed Zayn’s indie career for a number of years, it was hard to not become emotional witnessing a defeated Sami Zayn alone in the ring, surrounded only by an overwhelming chorus of song from a crowd still eager to see him perform.
Honorable Mentions: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Katsuyori Shibata (NJPW, Destruction in Kobe), Daniel Bryan vs Triple H (WWE, Wrestlemania 30), Paige vs Emma (NXT, ArRival), Tomohiro Ishii vs Yuji Nagata (NJPW, G1 Climax 24, Day 11)
Favorite Wrestler of the Year:
Sami Zayn (NXT)
As a huge fan of Sami Zayn, El Generico, whatever it is you prefer to call him, I’m very proud to say that this has been his year. From show stealing performances to his road to redemption, Sami Zayn was the clear leader for WWE’s NXT promotion. Not only did he have multiple match of the year contenders, but he also grew as a performer, becoming much more comfortable on the mic, more fluidly combining it with his unparalleled knack for in-ring storytelling. Now armed with the NXT Championship, I’m extremely excited to see where Sami’s career is heading, and what the future of the WWE holds for someone who is clearly one of the absolute best pro wrestlers in the world today.
Honorable Mentions: Katsuyori Shibata (NJPW), ReDragon (Ring of Honor, NJPW), AJ Styles (NJPW), Bayley (NXT), Tomohoro Ishii (NJPW)
Favorite PPV of the Year:
There is some bias to consider here as it was my first time attending a Wrestlemania, but judging from the critical acclaim it received, I’m definitely not alone in considering it to be the best of WWE’s trademark show in well over a decade. And doesn’t it just feel great to be able to say nothing but nice things about a Wrestlemania? Daniel Bryan’s stunning double-duty showing aside, The Streak ending was an unforgettable moment in pro wrestling history. Just about every match had something special or unique to it that made it one of the most fun events of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Takeover: [R]Evolution (NXT), Wrestle Kingdom 8 (NJPW), G1 Climax 24 (NJPW)
Favorite Promo of the Year:
“Hey, let’s get one thing straight: Brock Lesnar is not here to put smiles on people’s faces. Brock Lesnar is here to shock the WWE Universe and put tears in the eyes of children.”
Favorite Promotion of the Year:
The secret is out. NXT, the developmental, minor league promotion created by the WWE to create the next superstars of the future is infinitely superior to the major league product.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you think about it, but it’s also not the entire reason why NXT was my favorite promotion of the year. Its quarterly specials featured some of the best and brightest talent being given the time they needed to put on exceptional matches. The story and character building is simple, solid and in stark contrast to the overly dramatic WWE.
Armed with the likes of Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, Kevin Owens, Hideo Itami and Finn Balor, NXT has a stupidly over-the-top talent pool to draw upon, and that doesn’t even go into its blossoming Women’s division that put on matches that regularly put the guys at WWE to shame.
NXT is the reason you still have your WWE Network subscription, and it’s why, no matter how bad things can get in WWE land, you’ll stay plugged in to the foreseeable future.
Honorable Mentions: New Japan Pro Wrestling