The John Report Presents: The 11th Annual WWE Johnny Awards – 2019 Edition!

Welcome to the 2019 WWE Johnny Awards. They are the awards where I honor the hard-working men and women of World Wrestling Entertainment based on their work over the last twelve months. These are the very “prestigious” awards that I call the ELEVENTH ANNUAL WWE Johnny Awards! A few notes before it begins:

– This is World Wrestling Entertainment stuff ONLY. It says it in the title, but I want you to remember that when you ask why there’s no All Elite Wrestling, New Japan, Ring of Honor, Impact or anything else in here. It’s WWE only!

– These awards are based on my own personal choice. There were no polls or write-in votes. My name is on the awards, so I get to pick the winners. I don’t expect everybody reading this to agree with everything I write below, but I will do my best to justify all my choices. The awards are based on performance. It doesn’t necessarily matter if a person wins all their matches on television and titles really aren’t that important. It’s about the performance more than anything.

– Regarding NXT, WWE’s third brand is included in every award as well. The NXT brand is awesome and I’m not going to ignore it. The same goes for 205 Live and the NXT UK brand. Anything that is WWE is considered for these awards.

– Another thing to remember is I try to have fun when I write about wrestling. I don’t take it too seriously and I don’t take myself too seriously. If you disagree with something that’s cool. Keep it civil in the comments and don’t be shy about offering your take.

If you want to check out previous year’s editions of these awards, check out the WWE Johnny Awards archive on TJRWrestling as well. It’s nice to look back on those articles to reflect on the last decade of WWE content and what I thought about it.

I’ve used a similar intro for several years. I do that because it covers everything I need to say. There are 25 categories, so let’s get to it.

 

THE 2019 WWE JOHNNY AWARDS

Each one will have a description of what the award is, the previous winners of the award (if the award existed in the last eight years), the winner of the award, the runners-up for the award, and then my extended thoughts on the award.

  1. BEST MALE WRESTLER

To be given to the person that best combines workrate, character, microphone work and everything else into one. This is like WWE’s Superstar of the Year award when they did the Slammy Awards. Past winners – 2018: Johnny Gargano 2017: AJ Styles, 2016: AJ Styles, 2015: Seth Rollins, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010: Randy Orton, 2009: Chris Jericho

Winner: Daniel Bryan (Runners-Up: Adam Cole, Kofi Kingston, Seth Rollins, Johnny Gargano, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles)

The two men that stood out the most to me are Daniel Bryan of Smackdown and Adam Cole of NXT. My favorite time in WWE this year was definitely the first four months with Bryan establishing himself as a narcissistic heel WWE Champion that almost seemed unbeatable at times. It looked that way until WrestleMania when Kofi Kingston found a way to beat him in what was one of the best matches and feuds of the year. As the year went on, he wasn’t in the spotlight during some of it because WWE liked to give him breaks, but I still enjoyed everything he did including the face turn towards the end of the year.

I could have picked Adam Cole for this award because he had a great 2019 as well. Cole was the leader of the Undisputed Era group, he was on top of NXT for the past seven months as the NXT Champion while also putting on some of the best matches in WWE this decade along with Johnny Gargano. They had three incredible Takeover matches. Cole also had memorable matches with Finn Balor, Daniel Bryan and a rivalry with Tommaso Ciampa that is really getting interesting as well. Cole’s a good talker although his character is basic. He’s just a cocky heel with backup. It’s not like anything that fresh or new in pro wrestling.

I think what really made me choose Bryan is because of promos as well as his character transformation. That’s not a knock on Cole or Kofi or anybody else in terms of promos. I just think Bryan is one of the best talkers in all of WWE and because of how good he was on the microphone, it made us care that Kofi Kingston beat him at WrestleMania because that meant Bryan couldn’t be as cocky as the champion. Plus, let’s not forget that Bryan was arguably the most popular wrestler in WWE this decade, yet he was able to transform himself into the most hated villain in the company. That’s a gift, man. Bryan is incredible and not a lot of guys could go in a completely opposite direction the way he did.

Daniel Bryan is my pick because of the great matches and you can say that Adam Cole had more great matches, but I think Bryan’s character development, as well as his exceptional promos, help to separate him from the pack.

Some thoughts on the runners-up:

– This was a career year for Kofi Kingston. It wasn’t planned to start the year, but kudos to him for putting on great performances on a consistent basis. He had an awesome year.

– It was a cool moment when Johnny Gargano finally won the NXT Title although it didn’t last that long. I think his feud with Finn Balor has potential to be great.

– Roman Reigns isn’t booed anymore like he was in past years, which is good to see. Reigns needs a great rival. It’s been a few years since he’s had a memorable feud.

– I know fans turned on Seth Rollins, but if you pay attention to his matches he’s still one of the best wrestlers in the company. He had too many good matches for me not to acknowledge that. I also liked his heel turn a lot.

– AJ Styles isn’t as good as he was in that incredible 2016 year because age gets to everybody, but he’s still one of the most consistent wrestlers in WWE. I really liked his matches with Bryan and Rollins while a lot of the year was spent working with younger talent like Ricochet and Humberto Carrillo to try to make them better. That’s what a veteran does.

There’s so much talent in WWE. The booking needs to be better and if it is, the talent will shine.

 

  1. BEST FEMALE WRESTLER

To be given to the best female performer. Past winners – 2018: Becky Lynch, 2017: Asuka, 2016: Charlotte, 2015: Sasha Banks, 2014: Paige, 2013: AJ Lee, 2012: Eve, 2011: Beth Phoenix, 2010: Natalya, 2009: Mickie James

Winner: Becky Lynch (Runners-Up: Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Rhea Ripley, Shayna Baszler)

The win by Lynch means she is the first woman to win this award twice. I think Becky Lynch is the obvious choice here although I think if I had to compare this year to last year, I think she was better in 2018. This year she was more pushed, but she had better matches and her rise to the top was more fun to watch. Some of the stuff she did this year like the Royal Rumble match with Asuka, winning the Royal Rumble and most of the build to WrestleMania were great. The WrestleMania main event was pretty good, but I think Lynch had better matches this year. After that, the feud with Lacey Evans was extremely boring that hurt Becky more than it helped, then she had nothing to do and at least the rivalry with Sasha Banks was mostly good stuff. In the two months after that ended, Lynch didn’t even defend her title on television. I think Lynch as a performer is very good. I just don’t think WWE was that successful in terms of giving her interesting feuds this year.

Some quick thoughts on other women:

– Charlotte Flair remains a consistently good wrestler, but she was hurt by the booking. She was a heel to start the year, then she turned face and clearly doesn’t enjoy being a face. You can see it every time she’s out there. I think she would be better off on Smackdown so that she’s not around Lynch all the time, but obviously Flair’s boyfriend Andrade is a priority on Raw as well, so it is what it is.

– Bayley’s heel turn was a good thing for her career. The problem is that she is still figuring out how to work as a heel after so many years as a face. I don’t think she’s had a memorable match as a heel yet, so that hurts her. I like how she changed her look completely, though. That was necessary.

– Rhea Ripley may have been the best-booked superstar in the entire company. By that I mean she was booked so strong that she beat everybody in her path to win the NXT Women’s Title at 23 years old. Ripley even got wins over Raw and Smackdown women during the month-long build to Survivor Series. Ripley has a great look and her promos are solid, so it’s easy to see why WWE likes her. I think she’s going to be one of the top women in the company over the next decade.

– Shayna Baszler was booked as a dominant heel champion again. She’s good in the role, but there were times when I was really bored by her. She is what she is. I just want to see her expand a bit more.

– Natalya is one of the best in the ring with some great matches with Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and her matches with Lacey Evans were better than what Lynch did with Evans.

– It’s weird not mentioning Sasha Banks or Asuka in the nominees, but they just didn’t have enough big moments or matches. Sasha’s feud with Becky Lynch was great. Other than that, there wasn’t much for her and she had that four-month break too. Each woman spent long periods of time where they weren’t booked at all.

This year has felt like a step back in the Women’s Evolution that WWE loves to mention all the time. The fact that they didn’t do an Evolution PPV after last year’s show was the best WWE PPV of 2018 was really disappointing to me. Did they not have confidence in it being a good show just because Ronda Rousey wasn’t there after WrestleMania? If I was a woman that worked there, I would be upset at management for not doing that Evolution PPV this year.

 

  1. BEST FEUD

To be given to the best rivalry between two or more performers. Past winners – 2018: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano, 2017: Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman, 2016: AJ Styles vs. John Cena, 2015: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, 2014: Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority, 2013: CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman/Brock Lesnar, 2012: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, 2011: Randy Orton vs. Christian, 2010: The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan, 2009: CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy

Winner: Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano (Runners-Up: Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan)

I think the Cole/Gargano and Bryan/Kingston rivalries were by far the best two of the year. If I had to split up my vote in terms of percentages I would probably go 53% for Cole/Gargano, Kingston/Bryan would be around 45% and then maybe 2% for the others. I’m not listing other feuds because I think they are way behind.

The big thing that Cole/Gargano had going for them is they were able to have three extremely long matches on Takeover shows. Their matches headlined Takeover events in April, June and August. The shortest of those three matches was 32 minutes. In other words, they got a lot of time due to the format of NXT shows. If Bryan/Kingston had a match that long would it have been as epic? Maybe. I think their WrestleMania match was special, though, and I liked what they did at Elimination Chamber even with four other guys in the match. If Bryan/Kingston had three major singles matches maybe I could have picked them because the promos were generally pretty good, but I had to go with Cole/Gargano here.

 

  1. BEST MATCH

To be given to the best match. Past winners – 2018: Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa @ NXT Takeover New Orleans 04/07/18, 2017: John Cena vs. AJ Styles @ Royal Rumble, 2016: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn @ NXT Takeover Dallas, 2015: Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena @ Royal Rumble, 2014: The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield @ Elimination Chamber, 2013: Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk @ SummerSlam, 2012: The Undertaker vs. Triple H (Shawn Michaels as ref) @ WrestleMania 28, 2011: CM Punk vs. John Cena @ Money in the Bank, 2010: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 26, 2009: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 25

Winner: Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole @ NXT Takeover New York 04/06/19 (Runners-Up: Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan @ WrestleMania 35 04/07/19, Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano @ NXT Takeover XXV 06/01/19, Walter vs. Tyler Bate @ NXT Takeover UK Cardiff 08/31/19)

Adam Cole scores first against Johnny Gargano in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match: NXT TakeOver: New York

I watched all four of these matches recently and I’m going with Gargano/Cole as the winner. The first three matches there were given five stars out of five from me while Walter/Bate was just 1/4* short of that. These were the four matches that really stood out to me in 2019 and it’s difficult to put them in any order, quite frankly. I also think it’s incredible that the top two matches of year happened in back to back nights during WrestleMania weekend. Do wrestling fans today realize how spoiled we are sometimes? I think there’s too much negativity out there. I wish more attention was given to these great matches.

I think in terms of a story of a match, Gargano/Cole really was the best. The fact that they got about 15 minutes more than Bryan/Kingston probably helped along with the fact that Gargano/Cole was a 2/3 Falls match. Both matches were similar in the sense that the fans really wanted the babyface Gargano to finally win the NXT Title while the fans at WrestleMania were going crazy for Kingston finally winning the WWE Title. The amount of nearfalls really got the crowd into Gargano/Cole. If Bryan/Kingston got another five minutes, it might have helped, but I still think it’s a five star match. I like using the phrase “that’s pro wrestling at its best” in moments like this because the best story you can tell in wrestling is to have that babyface beat the bad guy to win the title at one of the biggest events of the year. That’s what happened in both of these matches.

There is so much talent in WWE right now. They have over 200 wrestlers under contract between all the brands they have, so we are always going to get awesome matches. I would venture to guess I rated more matches over four stars out of five this year than any year and there are still shows I don’t even review. Pro wrestling is about the in-ring action after all. Let’s celebrate the great matches more and worry less about the stupid storylines that frustrate us. That’s what I’m going to try to do in 2020.

 

  1. BEST PAY-PER-VIEW

To be given to the best pay-per-view. Past winners – 2018: Evolution, 2017: Royal Rumble, 2016: Money in the Bank, 2015: WrestleMania 31, 2014: WrestleMania 30, 2013: SummerSlam 2012: Extreme Rules, 2011: Money in the Bank, 2010: WrestleMania 26, 2009: SummerSlam

Winner: WrestleMania 35 (Runners-Up: Elimination Chamber, Fastlane, Survivor Series)

There wasn’t one standout main roster PPV in my opinion, but I enjoyed WrestleMania the most even though it was the longest show of the year. Here are the links to the top four that had scores that were 7.25 and up. Nothing reached an 8 this year.

WrestleMania 35 – 7.5

Elimination Chamber – 7.5

Fastlane – 7.5

Survivor Series – 7.25

The top three PPVs were among the first four PPVs of the year. That’s because the booking was better in the build up to WrestleMania, which is usually the case. I also liked Royal Rumble too, but it didn’t make the mentions here. Survivor Series had good matches all night long although I think they picked the wrong match to go on last.

It was a pretty good WrestleMania with a lot of happy moments since babyface wrestlers like Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and others got victories. There were some quality matches most of the night too.

 

  1. BEST NXT TAKEOVER SPECIAL

To be given to the best NXT Takeover special. Past winners – 2018: NXT Takeover New Orleans, 2017: NXT Takeover Chicago, 2016: NXT Takeover Dallas, 2015: NXT Takeover Brooklyn

Winner: NXT Takeover New York on April 5 (Runners-Up: NXT Takeover Toronto, NXT Takeover XXV in Bridgeport)

Here are the links to my NXT Takeover reviews (out of 10) for this year:

NXT Takeover New York – 10

NXT Takeover Toronto – 9

NXT Takeover XXV (Bridgeport) – 9

NXT Takeover WarGames (Chicago) – 8.5

NXT Takeover Phoenix – 8.5

NXT Takeover UK Cardiff – 8.5

The NXT Takeover New York show during WrestleMania weekend is an all-time great show. As usual, NXT Takeover events are amazing. If I included Takeover’s in the same category as main roster PPVs, this was a year where all of the Takeover shows earned higher scores than all the other PPVs.

 

  1. BEST TALKER

To be given to the best person at delivering promos. Past winners – 2018: The Miz, 2017: The Miz, 2016: Chris Jericho, 2015: Paul Heyman, 2014: Paul Heyman, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010 winner: CM Punk, 2009 winner: Chris Jericho

Winner: Daniel Bryan (Runners-up: Kevin Owens, Rey Mysterio, Samoa Joe, Becky Lynch, Paul Heyman)

Daniel Bryan files a complaint against WWE: SmackDown LIVE, Feb. 5, 2019

The heel act of Daniel Bryan makes him the easy choice for me. The fact that he could turn the crowd against him as much as he did was so cool to see and it was mostly because of what he said, but also how he said it. If you would have told me a decade again that Bryan Danielson would be among the best talkers in WWE, I would have doubted you. However, the man has improved so much. He’s the best.

I think Kevin Owens showed his depth as a performer this year by delivering great promos as a heel and a face. The fans really got behind him this year, especially when he was feuding with Shane McMahon because of the promos. They felt real. It was great to listen to. Rounding out the runners-up are the natural babyface Rey Mysterio, the always consistent Samoa Joe, Becky Lynch got a lot of promo time and Paul Heyman is always going to be mentioned on here.

I didn’t list The Miz as a runner up even though he won this award the last two years because his babyface promos are less interesting than what he did as a heel.

 

  1. WORST FEUD

To be given to the worst rivalry between two or more performers. Formerly known as the Katie Vick award. RIP Katie. Past winners – 2018: Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn, 2017: Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt, 2016: Darren Young vs. Titus O’Neil, 2015: Dolph Ziggler/Lana vs. Rusev/Summer Rae, 2014: Brie Bella vs. Nikki Bella, 2013: Big Show vs. Triple H/Randy Orton, 2012: Kane vs. Zack Ryder/John Cena, 2011: Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler & Jim Ross, 2010 winner: Kane vs. Edge, 2009 winner: Triple H vs. Randy Orton

Winner: Shane McMahon vs. The Miz (Runners-Up: The Undertaker vs. Bill Goldberg, Seth Rollins vs. The Fiend, Rusev vs. Bobby Lashley)

What was the point of this feud? When it was happening, I figured that 49-year-old Shane McMahon turned heel on The Miz (after they lost the tag team titles) because he was going to put Miz over as a face to try to elevate Miz as a good guy. Instead, they used The Miz’s dad George in the storyline, Shane called him a potato face, George even got in the ring at WrestleMania (which was unintentionally hilarious) and then Shane beat Miz! What? They wrestled again at Money in the Bank, Shane won that too and Miz never got his win over Shane. Once again I ask, what was the point of the feud? To elevate the old guy? What a waste of TV time. The Miz had a down year because of it.

The only thing that saved The Undertaker vs. Bill Goldberg was that they only had one match. It went ten minutes and it was awful. I never want to see it again. They’re old. Move on, boys.

The Seth Rollins feud with The Fiend didn’t work. The match at Hell in a Cell sucked with a terrible finish. At Crown Jewel it wasn’t any better with The Fiend no selling everything leading to a win…R-Truth vs. Drake Maverick had some funny moments for the comedy 24/7 Title, but it just went on too long…I don’t really like the Rusev feud with Bobby Lashley. It’s still in progress.

I might be missing on others because we all hate different things. Those are the ones that stood out to me.

 

  1. WORST PAY-PER-VIEW

To be given to the worst PPV. They wanted us to pay money for this? Past winners – 2018: Crown Jewel, 2017: Battleground, 2016: Fastlane, 2015: Royal Rumble, 2014: Tables, Ladders & Chairs (And Stairs), 2013: Battleground, 2012: Hell in a Cell, 2011: Over The Limit

Winner: Super Showdown (Runners-Up: Hell in a Cell, TLC)

There were three PPVs that stood out as the worst based on my ratings out of 10:

Super Showdown – 3

Hell in a Cell – 3.5

TLC – 4.5

That Super Showdown show was such a mess. At least there were some good to great matches at Hell in a Cell and TLC to prevent them from being the worst. Super Showdown was mostly forgettable from start to finish with that disappointing Undertaker vs. Goldberg match in the main event.

 

  1. BEST TAG TEAM

To be given to the two men that function best as a tag team. Past winners – 2018: The Bar (Sheamus & Cesaro), 2017: The Usos, 2016: The New Day, 2015: The New Day, 2014: The Usos, 2013: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns, 2012: Team Hell No (Kane & Daniel Bryan), 2011: Air Boom (Evan Bourne & Kofi Kingston), 2010: The Hart Dynasty, 2009: Chris Jericho and The Big Show

Winners: The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish) (Runners-Up: The New Day, The Revival, Kabuki Warriors)

It was just an average year for tag team wrestling in WWE. I don’t really remember any tag team feuds as being that special the way The New Day feuded with The Usos two years ago. There were a few New Day/Revival matches that I enjoyed, so that was probably the best tag team rivalry. I went with The Undisputed Era team due to their consistency, teamwork, ability to have good matches with anybody and they continue to be booked strong as part of the NXT brand. The New Day and The Revival are awesome teams are well. The Kabuki Warriors have clearly been the best women’s team as well.

 

  1. THE “NEXT BIG THING” AWARD

To be given to the wrestler that is most likely to be the “next big thing” in the new year. Past winners – 2018: Velveteen Dream, 2017: Rusev, 2016: Shinsuke Nakamura, 2015: Sami Zayn, 2014: Bray Wyatt, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Dolph Ziggler, 2011: Cody Rhodes, 2010: Alberto Del Rio, 2009: John Morrison

The new rule for 2019 is that it must be somebody that hasn’t won a title in WWE yet.

Winner: Keith Lee (Runners-Up: Matt Riddle, Io Shirai, Candice LeRae)

I think Keith Lee has made a huge impact in the last few months. Considering how strongly WWE booked him during Survivor Series weekend as part of the winning men’s team in WarGames and then as the last man on the NXT at Survivor Series, it shows they believe in him too. That showdown with Lee and Roman Reigns was very interesting. I don’t know if Keith is going to be a NXT guy for that much longer because I can see him as a regular on Raw or Smackdown in 2020. No matter where he goes, I believe he can be a legitimate main event guy. Bask in his glory…indeed.

Matt Riddle’s got all the tools in the ring. His matches are among the best in WWE. I think he needs to work on the gimmick. Walking around as a stoner saying “bro” all the time is fine, but he needs to be doing more than that too. I want to see his character evolve and I hope he can have a breakout feud soon.

Io Shirai is tremendous as a face or heel. She is one of my favorite women’s wrestlers in all of WWE. I think her former rival Candice would be a very believable women’s champion as well.  

 

  1. BEST HEEL

To be given to the performer that is the best at drawing the ire of the audience. Past winners 2018: Tommaso Ciampa, 2017: The Miz, 2016: AJ Styles, 2015: Seth Rollins, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: Daniel Bryan, 2011: Christian. Award began in 2011.

Winner: Daniel Bryan (Runners-Up: Adam Cole, Brock Lesnar, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt)

It’s Daniel Bryan again. He was a heel for most of the year. I think back to the first part of the year when I was giving Smackdown regular scores of 7 or 8 out of 10 every week mainly because of how great Daniel Bryan was. The guy went from being one of the most popular wrestlers alive with the “Yes Movement” behind him to the most hated guy with a custom WWE Title. On top of that, Bryan ripped on the fans for not treating the environment the right way. A lot of it was ridiculous in theory, but Bryan managed to pull it off. Also, it’s incredible that the guy sat out three years due to concussions and had an emotional return in early 2018 ended up having the best heel turn late last year in order to become the best heel this year.

Adam Cole is an outstanding performer. I just don’t know if he’s a traditional wrestling heel sometimes. Yes, he cheats at times thanks to his friends in the Undisputed Era group, but he also gets way too many cheers from the fans, especially during his “BAY-BAY” chants. To me, a true heel – the very best of them – never gets cheers and never does anything to get cheers. I’d love to see Cole be more of a true heel in the future.

I put Brock Lesnar because I think he has tremendous value on WWE television as a legitimate athlete that has accomplished so much in WWE and he is so hated by the fans. Then, when it comes time to business, he is willing to go out there to have a meaningful match at a major show like when he put over Seth Rollins clean at WrestleMania and SummerSlam. It’s not Lesnar’s fault that Rollins failed as a face in the eyes of the fans. Lesnar did his part well. From a performance standpoint, Lesnar is great. If you hate him for not working more often, blame Vince McMahon for paying him. I’d work way less if I could too and I’m sure you would as well.

The other current major champion is “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and I think he deserves a lot of credit for creating a unique villain character. They need to get rid of the stupid red light, but for the most part I enjoy what The Fiend is doing out there.

The most pushed heel on Raw most of the year was Baron “King” Corbin and since he’s been on Smackdown, he has also been pushed a lot as a heel. I don’t think he’s that impressive. He represents the staleness of the WWE product right now. They need better top heels.

 

  1. BEST BABYFACE

To be given to the performer that is the best at receiving the adulation of the audience. Past winners – 2018: Becky Lynch, 2017: AJ Styles, 2016: Dean Ambrose, 2015: John Cena, 2014: Dolph Ziggler, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: John Cena, 2011: Randy Orton. Award began in 2011.

Winner: Kofi Kingston (Runners-Up: Becky Lynch, Johnny Gargano, Roman Reigns, Rey Mysterio, Seth Rollins)

Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan sign their WrestleMania contract: SmackDown LIVE, April 2, 2019

I think the rise of Kofi Kingston was one of the better stories in WWE this year. The guy went form a tag team wrestler and somebody that held midcard titles multiple times in his career to finally getting that big break. The only reason he got it was because of Mustafa Ali’s untimely injuries, but sometimes the best stories in wrestling are the ones that were never planned. The fans loved Kingston, he was elevated at Elimination Chamber by nearly beating Daniel Bryan and then at WrestleMania when he did beat Bryan for the WWE Title. The title reign was pretty good, but nothing really compared to the rivalry with Bryan. The best thing about Kingston is that he was consistent all year. He’s a true, old school babyface in every sense of the word and a very likable guy.

Becky Lynch is one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE. The rivalry with Ronda Rousey was great for both women, but we still haven’t seen that as a singles match. I liked her feud with Sasha Banks too, as I mentioned earlier. The problem is the Lacey Evans rivalry was boring and then it feels like Lynch was just killing time the last couple of months to get to the end of the year. Once again, I liked her 2018 more than her 2019.

I think Gargano, Reigns, Rey Mysterio and Rollins all did well as babyfaces. I know the fans turned on Rollins, but think of the whole year, watch the matches and it’s hard to deny him at least a mention in this category.

 

  1. BIGGEST NEWS STORY

The stories of the year that we’ll always remember when looking back at the year that was. Past winners – 2018: Roman Reigns announcing he has leukemia, 2017: Kurt Angle returning to WWE after 11 years away, 2016: WWE signs four top New Japan stars, 2015: Injuries decimate the roster, 2014: CM Punk leaving WWE, 2013: The WWE Network Still Isn’t Here, 2012: Jerry Lawler’s heart attack, 2011: The death of Randy Savage, 2010: The departure of several big names (Shawn Michaels), 2009: Shane McMahon leaves WWE

Winner: Roman Reigns returns from leukemia battle in February (Runners-Up: Women’s triple threat match headlines WrestleMania 35, Smackdown lands on Fox, NXT goes to USA Network)

The Roman Reigns comeback story wins this one easily, in my opinion. The man came back from leukemia, which is a form of cancer and he did it in about four months. I know that some people might scoff at that saying it was only four months, so how bad could it be? It’s still cancer. It’s still a deadly disease where if you don’t find it right away and treat it, you may end up with serious problems for the rest of your life. Reigns said that he must take a pill to help with it, so that’s what he has to deal with for the rest of life. I hope it never comes back, but there is no way of knowing if it will. When Reigns returned in February, he told us all he’s in remission and he’s been back in action ever since. Good to see the “Big Dog” back home in WWE.

I think the trio of Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair headlining WrestleMania was an amazing thing. I’m happy that it happened. I wish that the match was better, especially the finish, but that’s what happens sometimes in wrestling. It’s still the kind of thing that should have a huge impact on the next generation of wrestling fans.

Smackdown going to Fox officially in October was a big deal. Sadly, the quality of the show hasn’t been great (like the first three months of the year), but at least WWE has a show on network TV.

The growth of NXT has been one of the best things about WWE this decade. This year, they took another big step by becoming a two-hour show live every Wednesday night on USA Network. Would this have happened if All Elite Wrestling wasn’t airing Dynamite on Wednesdays? I doubt it. The competition is there now and wrestling fans are more spoiled than ever. Enjoy it.

 

  1. BEST INDIVIDUAL PROMO

To be given to the one promo that was the best in the last year. It can feature more than one person. Past winners – 2018: Daniel Bryan’s announcement that he has been cleared to return @ Smackdown March 20, 2017: Festival of Friendship with Kevin Owens turning on Chris Jericho on Raw February 13, 2016: The Miz and Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack, 2015: The Rock at WrestleMania 31, 2014: Daniel Bryan “Occupy Raw” face to face with Triple H @ Raw March 10, 2013: Mark Henry @ Raw June 17, 2012: Kane’s Speech at Anger Management @ Raw August 27

Winner: Roman Reigns announcing he’s in remission on February 25th edition of Raw

Roman Reigns announces he is in remission: Raw, Feb. 25, 2019

This was an easy choice. I could think of a traditional wrestling promo from Daniel Bryan or Kofi Kingston, but I’m going with Reigns on Raw on February 25th.

This is what I wrote in my analysis of that speech on Raw: “I really liked Roman’s speech as he spoke from the heart and you could tell he was genuinely touched by all the support he received. I also liked what he said about the fans. I know wrestling fans bicker about every little thing, but when somebody is down, we all remember we’re on the same team as fans of this business and we support that person. Good job Atlanta crowd by representing all of us because I know everybody reading this is supporting him too. The whole segment was very well done. Welcome back, Roman.”

That’s the winner for me. No doubt.

 

  1. BEST TURN

To be given to the best babyface or heel turn that benefitted the performer the most. Past winners – 2018: Daniel Bryan, 2017: Sami Zayn, 2016: AJ Styles, 2015: The New Day, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Randy Orton, 2012: Big Show, 2011: Mark Henry, 2010: Kane, 2009: CM Punk

Winner: Finn Balor (Runner-Up: Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Dakota Kai)

Finn Bálor brutalizes Johnny Gargano: WWE NXT, Oct. 23, 2019

When Finn Balor returned from his break to join NXT, it was treated as a big deal and a sign that the NXT brand was going to become a more important show in the WWE Universe. That was followed by Balor turning heel when he attacked Johnny Gargano and it was a side of Balor that most WWE fans have never seen before. It wasn’t expected, but it was executed perfectly. I enjoyed it a lot.

I liked seeing Seth Rollins as a bad guy. It’s still early, but I think he’s going to be great at it. AJ Styles going back to his heel ways to re-align with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson felt fresh after a few years of being one of the top faces on Smackdown.

The next three runners up are all women. Sasha Banks did an excellent job as a heel when she first returned in August. The matches with Natalya and Becky Lynch were very good. She has done nothing interesting since then, though. I like that Bayley has changed her look as well as her promo style. I just keep waiting for her to get a good feud. It’s been a while. Dakota Kai may not be known to a lot of you, but her heel turn against Tegan Nox at NXT Takeover WarGames was excellent. We need more turns like that.

 

  1. MOST IMPROVED PERFORMER

To be given to the performer that has shown the most improvement in the last year. Past winners – 2018: Velveteen Dream, 2017: Braun Strowman, 2016: The Miz, 2015: Bayley, 2014: Damien Mizdow, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Ryback, 2011: Zack Ryder, 2010: Cody Rhodes, 2009: Kofi Kingston

Winner: Rhea Ripley (Runners-Up: Humberto Carrillo)

The winner of this award is Rhea Ripley not because she was a bad performer in the past. I just think she has improved to the point where she has gone from being a young woman with potential to being one of the top women in WWE that can already hang in there with the best WWE women. That’s impressive for somebody that’s only 23 years old. I like where Humberto Carrillo is going too. He’s a guy to watch in the future.

 

  1. BEST WEEKLY WWE TV SHOW

To be given to the best weekly WWE television (or internet) show. Past winners – 2018: NXT, 2017: Smackdown, 2016: Smackdown, 2015: NXT, 2014: NXT, 2013: NXT.

Winner: NXT (Runner-Up: Smackdown)

I think it’s easily NXT. There’s just more in-ring action, better storylines and it’s a lot less stressful to watch. The first four months of Smackdown was very good. The rest of the year was not so great. The length of Raw at three hours continues to be a big reason why it’s not a winner here. The show is too long.

 

  1. FUNNIEST MOMENT

To be given to the funniest moment of the year whether it was unintentional or on purpose. Past winners – 2018: Titus O’Neil’s slide at Greatest Royal Rumble

Winner: George Mizanin gets in the ring at WrestleMania (Runner-Up: R-Truth comedy segments)

Enough said. Watching The Miz’s dad get in the ring and trying to fight Shane McMahon made me laugh so much. By the way, George wasn’t supposed to go in the ring and he did it anyway. There was even a story that Shane may have broken one of George’s ribs. That’s the winner for me.

R-Truth makes me laugh most of the time he’s out there even when it involves that comedy 24/7 Title. I feel like at least acknowledging Truth is fair to do in this awards column.

 

  1. STUPIDEST BOOKING DECISION

To be given to the stupidest choice made by WWE’s creative team. Past winners – 2018: Brock Lesnar as Universal Champion for way too long, 2017: Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion

Winner: Wildcard Rule (Runner-up: Kofi Kingston’s WWE Title loss was in a very short match, WWE does not do the Evolution PPV again)

I thought the Wildcard Rule was lame. Why not just say the brand extension was on hold at that point? Instead of something simple like that, the announcers had to yell out “Wildcard Rule” like a bunch of morons. Eventually, WWE just stopped mentioning it through the summer until the rosters got split up again in October.

When Brock Lesnar vs. Kofi Kingston for the WWE Title was announced for the Smackdown on Fox debut, I figured it would be a competitive match. Nope. Lesnar won in about ten seconds. I didn’t like it back then and I don’t like it now. I already covered the Evolution PPV topic earlier in the awards.

 

  1. BEST FINISHING MOVE

To be given to the best finishing move in WWE. Past winners – 2018: Eclipse by Ember Moon, 2017: Eclipse by Ember Moon, 2016: Styles Clash by AJ Styles, 2015: Popup Powerbomb by Kevin Owens, 2014: Red Arrow by Neville, 2013: Neutralizer by Cesaro, 2012: Neutralizer by Cesaro

Winner: RKO/Shatter Machine Combo by Randy Orton and The Revival (Runner-up: Styles Clash by AJ Styles, 630 Splash by Ricochet)

There really isn’t one move that sticks out this year, so I’m going for a combination of moves. When Randy Orton was regularly working with The Revival over the summer, they would do this combo move where The Revival guys lifted the opponent and Orton would drop them with the RKO. It’s incredible how popular the RKO still is considering it has been on TV regularly for about 25 years going back to when Diamond Dallas Page was using the Diamond Cutter in WCW, but it’s still getting huge reactions from the fans. I think by having The Revival lift a guy into the air, it makes the move look more devastating and that’s why I like it so much.

The Styles Clash is still an awesome move. When Styles does it off the middle ropes as a heel it looks even more devastating. I really like the 630 Splash by Ricochet although he has cut back on doing it as the year has gone on and he’s using the Recoil a lot more.

 

  1. BEST ANNOUNCER

To be given to the best announcer in WWE. It could be a play by play or analyst. Past winners – 2018: Mauro Ranallo, 2017: Corey Graves, 2016: Corey Graves, 2015: Corey Graves, 2014: John Bradshaw Layfield, 2013: John Bradshaw Layfield, 2012: John Bradshaw Layfield, 2011: Booker T, 2010: Matt Striker, 2009: Jim Ross.

Winner: Nigel McGuinness (Runner-Up: Mauro Ranallo, Corey Graves)

I’m going with Nigel McGuinness this year. I really like the work he’s done on NXT as well as NXT UK when I watch that show. McGuinness isn’t really a heel announcer, but he’s very good at breaking down strategies in a match like you would expect when watching a real sport.

Mauro Ranallo’s passion for the NXT product is great although sometimes he overdoes it. I still like him. I think Graves needs to be even more of a heel announcer than he is. He sides with some heels like King Corbin, but I wish he backed all the heels the way a Bobby Heenan or Jerry Lawler used to do.

 

  1. COMEBACK OF THE YEAR

To be given to somebody coming back from an injury or some other issue that kept them away. This is a new award starting this year. Past winners – 2018: Tommaso Ciampa.

Winner: Roman Reigns (Runners-up: Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn)

This is another obvious choice. I think coming back from something like leukemia is incredible because you never know how the body is going to react to medications. The fact that Reigns was able to take on a full schedule again is incredible. I’m happy he’s in good health.

Kevin Owens came back from double knee surgery while Sami Zayn had surgery on both shoulders last year. They both returned earlier this year. There are a lot of wrestlers that deal with injuries that need surgery. I think when you have surgeries on two body parts, it makes it even harder to come back. I’m glad that both of my fellow Canadians are back in the ring although Zayn doesn’t wrestle as much as he used to. I hope he gets to be in the ring more in 2020.

 

  1. BEST WWE NETWORK SHOW

To be given to the best show on WWE Network that is not just a live wrestling show. It has to be something different. Past winners – 2018: WWE Chronicle, 2017: WWE 24, 2016: Edge & Christian Show, 2015: Breaking Ground.

Winner: Broken Skull Sessions with Steve Austin (Runners-Up: WWE 24, Table for 3)

Undertaker on his WrestleMania classics: The Broken Skull Sessions (WWE Network Exclusive)

There have only been two episodes of Steve Austin’s “Broken Skull Sessions” on WWE Network, but I feel like that episode with The Undertaker in November was one of the greatest things that’s been on WWE Network in the nearly six years that it has existed. Hearing The Undertaker telling stories about his life before WWE, then the concept of The Undertaker character and just hearing him share his experiences with a fellow legend like Austin was so fun to watch. It was nearly two hours long, yet I felt myself wishing there was another two hours. Austin’s interview with Bill Goldberg was pretty good too.

The WWE 24 documentary series is always great. I love the behind the scenes footage they get. I always watch them no matter the subject matter. They had some better Table for 3 episodes this year. A recent episode with the Nation of Domination was fantastic. That’s another show that I wish was longer than the 20-25 minutes they usually get.

 

  1. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT

To be given to the most memorable moment of the year. Past winners – 2018: Daniel Bryan announces his return to the ring after three years away, 2017: Hardy Boyz return to WWE at WrestleMania, 2016: AJ Styles debuts at Royal Rumble, 2015: Seth Rollins becomes WWE Champion at WrestleMania 31, 2014: The Undertaker’s undefeated streak ends at WrestleMania 30 when he loses to Brock Lesnar, 2013: Daniel Bryan wins WWE Title leading to heel Triple H/Orton, 2012: Brock Lesnar’s Return April 2 on Raw, 2011: CM Punk’s Promo June 27 on Raw, 2010 winner: Bret & Shawn embrace in the ring, 2009 winner: The Undertaker/Michaels match

Winner: Kofi Kingston winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 35 (Runners-up: Johnny Gargano winning the NXT Championship at NXT Takeover New York, Becky Lynch wins the Royal Rumble)

By this point in the column it feels like I have covered this stuff many times. I think Kofi Kingston’s WWE Title win at WrestleMania was a special moment. I’ll always the remember the sheer joy on his face as he realized he won the match and then when he was put on his shoulders, we could see Xavier Woods legitimately crying because he was so happy for one of his best friends. The ovation of the crowd was incredible too. I’ll never forget it.

When it comes to Gargano finally getting the NXT Title, I already praised the match heavily. What I’ll also remember is when he was on the top of the ramp with his wife Candice LeRae, then the crowd popped again and Tommaso Ciampa walked out while Gargano had this look on his face when he realized his best friend Ciampa was there to give him a big hug. That was a special moment.

I thought the best night that Becky Lynch had this year was at the Royal Rumble. The match with Asuka was probably the best match she had this year while she also sold a knee injury the whole night. During the actual women’s Rumble match, which Lynch joined after Lana was injured, Lynch did a tremendous job of selling the knee and then she won the Rumble. It was booked really well. I liked this better than her WrestleMania moment.

This is another award that I could have given to Roman Reigns coming back. I just felt like going in another direction for it.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS ON WWE IN 2019

Since I always like to rate the shows out of 10, how about a rating for the year? Here’s how I rated the years since 2009.

2009: 5.5

2010: 5

2011: 7

2012: 7

2013: 6.5

2014: 5.5

2015: 5.5

2016: 6.5

2017: 6

2018: 6

2019: 6.25

I’m going with a 6.25 out of 10.

It’s more of the same for WWE in 2019. I don’t think WWE is a terrible product like some negative wrestling fans out there. It’s also not must see. A score of 6.25 out of 10 is the equivalent of getting a C or C+ in school. In other words, it’s fine but things could be a lot better.

The reason I am giving it a score slightly higher than the last two years is because I think NXT had one of their best years ever (probably the best since 2016) and putting NXT on USA Network for two hours has helped the brand grow. When it comes to Raw and Smackdown, it’s more of the same. There aren’t enough great rivalries, but when they are great like the Bryan/Kingston story that carried the first four months of Smackdown, it’s a nice reminder of how awesome WWE programming can be. My average grade for Smackdown from January through April was right around a 7 out of 10. The last four months were probably closer to a 6 or even less than that. Raw is hurt by being three hours. There’s too much content to consume every week. That problem isn’t going away any time soon.

I think if you look at WWE from a big picture perspective, an area where they are seriously lacking is in terms of character development. They need better, stronger heels to help boost the babyfaces. When you think about Seth Rollins being pushed so hard with two Universal Title wins over Brock Lesnar and a boring feud with Baron Corbin, is it really a surprise that the fans got bored with him? It’s because Seth didn’t have a memorable rivalry. Roman Reigns is the face of Smackdown. His main feuds this year were with Shane McMahon, Elias and guess what, there’s Baron Corbin again. It’s not that interesting.

The women’s division had some growth this year by headlining WrestleMania, but it’s not like that match was some epic matchup that should be celebrated as one of the best matches of the year. It was not that. Becky Lynch also had the same problems that her fiancé Seth Rollins had because her rivalry with Lacey Evans was boring, then at least she had some good matches with Sasha Banks and for the past couple of months, Lynch’s title hasn’t even been defended. The Smackdown Women’s Title hasn’t produced any interesting content this year either.

When it comes to NXT, they continue to fire on all cylinders. It’s the best brand in WWE. The men’s division has developed several main event level stars while also incorporating others into the mix. I think the women’s division is as good as it has been since probably 2015, which is when the Four Horsewomen of WWE were carrying things. The storytelling on NXT is a lot better. It’s a testament to Triple H as a booker while also showing that maybe his father-in-law Vince McMahon (at age 74 with the XFL ready to launch in February) is getting too old for this. If Hunter took over Raw and Smackdown regularly, would they be as good as NXT is? We may not know that answer for many more years. I’m just glad that NXT exists due to how consistently good it is.

I think WWE’s talent roster is very good and deep although they are lacking in big name stars. The absence of John Cena has been felt big time especially as TV ratings and live attendance numbers go down. I would love to see another “wrestling boom” although I don’t know if there’s a wrestler in WWE right now that is going to lead it. If there is, that person needs to step up soon. There’s no time like the present.

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I keep this part in every year: This is my favorite column to write every year. If you’re one of those people that reads a lot of my work without writing this is one of those times where I’m asking for your thoughts because I want to know what you thought. Don’t be shy. I reply to nearly every email. You can also contact me on Twitter or Facebook – the links to those are at the bottom of the post.

Thank you to my good friend Steve Melo for the banner at the top of this post. He also does the banners for every one of my columns including the always fun “preferred” Raw Deal banners, Smackdown banners, PPV banners and more.

I wish you all a safe and happy New Year in 2020. Bring on the next decade. I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading.

As I said, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My contact info is below. Thanks so much for reading!

John Canton – [email protected]

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