The 2014 Bobby James Awards: Music + Top 50 Songs

Welcome to the third installment of the 2014 Bobby James Awards. This post will serve as a celebration of music – so get your comments ready (for below) and pull up your iTunes or Google Music account, because I have a feeling there will be a great deal of music in my Top 50 that you’re unfamiliar with…

Alternative Group: Bastille

Bastille

Bastille experienced US and cross-over success in 2014. The breakout London-based band has had a lasting hit (“Pompeii”) on the radio and has been used in promotion/in connection with the DreamWorks animated film Peabody and Sherman. Undeniably, Bastille has made a name for themselves with American audiences. Their second album, All This Bad Blood, has earned Bastille a notable following, as it re-issued previously released tracks (“Pompeii) with new, original work (“Laughter Lines”) and covers of some celebrated and known songs like “Of the Night” (the Euro-Dance hit by Corona) and “What Would You Do” (originally made popular by City High).

Runner Up: Anberlin


Male Country Artist: Sam Hunt

Sam Hunt

Never before has a debuting artist earned an “artist of the year” category, but Sam Hunt has done something different. With his debut album Montevallo, Sam Hunt pushes the boundaries of country music. His unique blend of spoken/rapped verse and tender vocals, have him poised to become the next big country star. What’s better? Hunt, has a distinguishable voice that separates him from the plethora of similar-sounding, party-anthem wielding men of country. He has crossover appeal and could easily foray into soul/r&b, pop or jazz.

Runner Up: Luke Bryan


Female Pop Artist: Beyoncé

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Roaming Show

With a surprise album (Beyoncé) dropping at the end of 2013, Beyoncé was poised for success in 2014. Touring or not, “‘yoncé” was one name on your lips. From the elevator scandal involving her husband Jay Z and sister Solange, to rumors of divorce and pregnancy, “Beyoncé” saturated popular culture. Not too mention, she released several abstract – and wildly sexy – music videos and found great success with hits like “Partition,” “Pretty Hurts,” “7/11″ and “Flawless (ft. Nicki Minaj).” With Queen Bey quietly atop the throne in 2014, it was hard for other women to compete.

Runner Up: Taylor Swift


Dance/Electro Artists: Alexandra Stan

Alexandra Stan

Following a one-year delay and her emergence from an assault and court battle with her ex-manager, Romanian dance vocalist Alexandra Stan (“Mr. Saxobeat,” “Lemonade”) announced her second album, Unlocked, for release in 2014. Stan joined an anti-violence campaign and released, “Thanks for Leaving,” as her return anthem. The catchy beat was followed by easy-to-envision club tracks like “Cherry Pop,” “Dance,” “Give Me Your Everything” and “Vanilla Chocolat.” In addition to Stan’s dramatic return single and music video, she’s produced several futuristic and boldly bright music videos (my favorite’s for “Give Me Your Everything,” which has a 70s Sci-Fi feel). Welcome back Mrs. Saxobeat!

Runner Up: Tiesto


Pure Vocalist(s): Pentatonix

Pentatonix

A cappella group Pentatonix takes the “pure vocal” crown this year with their holiday album, “That’s Christmas To Me.” Their pure, soaring and impressive vocals were unmatched by anyone in music, especially on tracks like “Mary Did You Know?” and the “White Winter Hymnal.” In 2014 alone, Pentatonix released 5 albums/cover albums. Their body of work has grown to include songs like “Say Something” and “Royals,” and with each release, they stamp their signature vocals on every track and offer a unique perspective.

Runner Up: David Dunn


Female Country Artist: Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton

Forty-two(!) albums into her career (Blue Smoke) and Dolly Parton is still raking in recognition. Perhaps because of her sweet vulnerability and signature voice or quite simply just because of her ability to write songs people want to sing. Whatever it is – Dolly’s still got it, ’cause she never lost it. In my opinion, she’s still reigning over country music – and producing/releasing singles and albums that are on par, if not better, with her peers and counterparts. Dolly Parton is an icon in the music industry and tracks like “Blue Smoke,” “Unlikely Angel,” “Miss You-Miss Me,” “Lover du Jour,” and “Banks of the Ohio” showcase exactly why.

Runner Up: Miranda Lambert


Breakthrough Artist: Iggy Azalea

Iggy Azalea

Australian rapper and model, Iggy Azalea dropped her debut album The New Classic in April. Before and after it’s anticipated release, Azalea was establishing her superstar status with modest successes “Work” and “Bounce” before blowing up with “Fancy” (f. Charlie XCX) and “Black Widow” (ft. Rita Ora). She’s clashed publicly with several rap superstars (most notably Snoop Dogg) on her way to becoming the talk of the town (“Booty” video with Jennifer Lopez, anyone?). In November, she dropped Reclassified and had collaborated with Jennifer Hudson (“Trouble”), T.I. (“Change Your Life”) and Ellie Goulding (“Heavy Crown”), while releasing “Beg For It” (ft. MO). I don’t think debut years come any bigger than this…I-G-G-Y.

Runner Up: Jaymes Young


Male Pop Artist: Sam Smith

Sam Smith

Tell me you haven’t heard “Stay With Me” or “I’m Not the Only One” from British artist Sam Smith – and I’ll say you’re lying. Maybe you’ve heard “Lay Me Down” or “Money On My Mind?”  You may not be totally familiar with his name/image – but you will be. He’s got one of the most distinctive voices on the radio – and he dominated the pop conversation in 2014 with his soaring vocals and revelation of sexuality. What’s even more amazing? He’s just beginning, In the Lonely Hour, is his debut album and he’s netted 6 Grammy Award nominations including Album, Record and Song of the year! Un-touch-able.

Runner Up: Phillip Phillips


Mainstream Group: Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy followed up their smash hit from 2013 (“My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark”), with even more commercial – and catchy – success. From their lead single (“Centuries”) off their upcoming album American Beauty/American Psycho, to their collaboration (“Immortals”) with Marvel and Disney for Big Hero 6, the band experienced increased visibility and attention. If “Centuries” is any indication, Fall Out Boy seems poised for another great year.

Runner Up: Maroon 5


Collaboration of the Year: “Somethin’ Bad” – Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood

Somethin Bad - Miranda Lamber and Carrie Underwood

Every fan of country music has a fantasy – and that’s for the pairing of friends Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. For this duet, Lambert and Underwood embraced their bad girl sides to deliver a song that’s like a “real-life Thelma and Louise.” In order to fit in – or to outshine – or to even make a mockery of “bro-country” music, Somethin’ Bad’s lyrics and music video resemble Ridley Scott’s 1991 feature Thelma & Louise. Some have questioned the meaning of the song, which runs less than three minutes – others have seen it’s value after spending a year listening to Underwood and Lambert talk about inequality in country music. Remember when Carrie Underwood said men can sing about beer and partying, while all sounding similar and having a hit? She said girls had to work harder to make music – to stand out – and to be distinct. “Somethin’ Bad” shows girls can be vague and have a hit, too!

Runner Up: “Black Widow” – Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Ora


Music Video of the Year: “Partition (Explicit Video)” by Beyoncé

The unannounced album Beyoncé has proven to be quite the success for Queen Bey. From the album came this exceptional – and wildly sexy – music video. Where other artists try to go – Beyoncé goes with ease and grace. “Partition” is a fluid experience filled with reflective surfaces, draping gold and elaborate costuming, an awesome blend of choreography and lighting effects and female empowerment. Beyoncé owns her sexuality – and everything she does, it might sound like it’s for him, but it’s really for her. The staged fantasy aspect is a nice touch as well – it begs the question: Why did Beyoncé ever step away from acting? …and do we even need to talk about the exquisite silhouette? Nope.

Runner up: (tie) “Booty” by Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea, “Give Me Your Everything” by Alexandra Stan


Album of the Year: In the Lonely Hour – Sam Smith

In the Lonely Hour - Sam Smith

Sam Smith’s debut year has been fantastic, to say the least. His album, In the Lonely Hour (Deluxe Version), has spawned many popular hits like “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not the Only One.” His songs are sure to be well-known – and this album will have staying/lasting power. He will become the male version of Adele – and when history looks back to the first fifteen years of the new millennium, a new – and better – British Invasion will be noted and discussed. Because of this album – and his soulful pop voice and knack for ballads – Sam Smith will be one of the artists mentioned. Now the wait comes for the follow-up.

Runner up: 1989 by Taylor Swift


Song of the Year: “Laughter Lines” – Bastille 

“Laughter Lines” debuted in January 2014. Upon first listen, I knew this was something great. I took to social media and declared that this song would finish in the top 5, if not at the top of my year-end list. Here we are – and here is Bastille’s beautiful song about two people sharing a lifelong love together. It’s a poetic telling that, upon first listen, has a futuristic intro, but that gives way to lyrics and vocals that present a sort of longing happiness. If you have not heard this song…get back to me when you do.

Top 50 Songs of 2014:

  1. “Laughter Lines” – Bastille
  2. “Moondust (Stripped)” – Jaymes Young
  3. “Raging Fire” – Phillip Phillips
  4. “Come Back for Me” – Jaymes Young
  5. “Stay With Me” – Sam Smith
  6. “Partition” – Beyoncé
  7. “Immortals” – Fall Out Boy
  8. “Make It Rain” – Ed Sheeran
  9. “Chandelier” – Sia
  10. “Once Upon a Dream” – Lana Del Ray
  11.  “Strange Birds” – Birdy
  12. “Stranger Ways” – Anberlin
  13. “Confusing Happiness” – Lo-Fang
  14. “Take Me to Church” – Hozier
  15. “Blue Smoke” – Dolly Parton
  16. “Centuries” – Fall Out Boy
  17. “Sparks” – James Bay / “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
  18. “Happy Little Pill” – Troye Sivan
  19. “Somethin’ Bad” – Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
  20. “Black Widow” – Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Ora
  21. “Animals” – Maroon 5
  22. “Girls/Girls/Boys” – Panic! At the Disco
  23. “Thanks For Leaving” – Alexandra Stan
  24. “Give Me Your Everything” – Alexandra Stan
  25. “G.U.Y.” – Lady GaGa
  26. “Lead On” – Phillip Phillips
  27. “The Hanging Tree” – James Newton Howard ft. Jennifer Lawrence
  28. “I’m Not the Only One” – Sam Smith
  29. “Gypsy” – Lady GaGa
  30. “Hold Back the River” – James Bay
  31. “The Crying Game” – Nicki Minaj
  32. “Pompeii” – Bastille
  33. “Fancy” – Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX
  34. “Grand Piano” – Nicki Minaj
  35. “Flawless” – Beyoncé ft. Nicki Minaj
  36. “Maps” – Maroon 5
  37. “Love Someone” – Jason Mraz
  38. “Aviation High” – Semi-Precious Weapons
  39. “Take Your Time” – Sam Hunt
  40. “Don’t” – Ed Sheeran
  41. “Conqueror” – Estelle
  42. “Habits (Stay High)” – Tove Lo
  43. “Divine Sorrow” – Wyclef Jean ft. Avicii
  44. “Riptide” – Vance Joy
  45. “Am I Wrong” – Nico & Vinz
  46. “Pills N Potions” – Nicki Minaj
  47. “White Winter Hymnal” – Pentatonix
  48. “Banks of the Ohio” – Dolly Parton
  49. “Problem” – Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea
  50. “Let Me In Your Heart” – Queen

The 2014 Bobby James Awards: World Wrestling Entertainment

Welcome to the “Best of WWE” edition of the 2014 Bobby James Awards.

Did you know my best of WWE list started it all? Thirteen years later, they’re still going strong (I’m adding two more categories this year! Bringing the total to 15!). This year presented us with some unforgettable in-ring action, as well as some timeless moments – but that’s not to say everything is fine. As WWE’s focus shifts toward more in-ring action and the athletes that can deliver, we’ve experienced a hiccup or two.

Half of the pay-per-views (or WWE Network “special events”) have had unclean finishes and WWE’s botched the call-ups of several Superstars and Divas, namely Emma and Adam Rose. We’ve been subjected to more “Guest Stars,” including Grumpy Cat – and there are bulls and bunnies (people in costume) competing in matches! For every two steps forward, there seems to be a giant step back.

This isn’t to say that 2014 is without merit, though. There have been some really great matches, moments and competitors. Let’s take a look:

Rookie of the Year: Paige

Paige

Paige debuted on RAW the night after WrestleMania 30, winning the Divas Championship in her main-roster debut against AJ Lee. Following the match, the unstable AJ went missing and Paige ran through the women’s roster, defending her title, against the likes Tamina Snuka, Alicia Fox, Cameron and Naomi.

Her in-ring style is unmatched by any Diva on the main roster (save for Natalya, who’s been severely misused for years) and her finishing maneuvers the Paige-Turner, the Ram-Paige and the PTO (submission) are some of the most punishing maneuvers to be featured in Divas bouts in years.

AJ Lee returned after a nearly three-month absence to reclaim her title – giving Paige her first high-profile feud with a”frenemy.” Fans have been eager to see the potential of Paige vs. AJ, but so far, it’s undelivered. Paige reclaimed the Divas Championship at Summer Slam (August 17) but was defeated for the title again by AJ not long after. As Nikki Bella entered the championship fray, Paige faded into the background. There’s no denying that as a newcomer, Paige was the one to beat.

Fun-Fact: Paige becomes the fourth woman to be named “Rookie of the Year.” She follows Gail Kim (’03), Melina (’05) and Kharma (’11).

Runner up: Rusev

Tag Team of the Year: Rhodes / Gold and Stardust

Gold and Stardust

Rhodes began 2014 as tag team champions before losing out to the New Age Outlaws. They remained active in the division throughout the year – and their team got a boost when Cody Rhodes underwent an intergalactic transformation to become “Stardust.”

Stardust reinvigorated fan interest in Cody Rhodes, a star who should be competing for world championships. His new gimmick complemented his brother Goldust – and together, the stars became the limit. Gold and Stardust unseated The Usos, the longest reigning tag champions of the year. Immediately, Stardust had purpose and his out of the ring antics and in-ring aggression and showmanship captured the WWE Universe.

This year alone, the Rhodes brothers did vicious battle some of the biggest names in tag team wrestling, including The New Age Outlaws, The Wyatt Family and The Usos – and through their feud with the recently formed New Day stable, they’re proving that the titles aren’t essential for their success.

Runners up: The Usos

Show of the Year: Summer Slam (Aug. 17, Los Angeles)

SummerSlam

Easily the best show of the year, Summer Slam emanated from Los Angeles on August 17. The main event saw Brock Lesnar dominate the face of the WWE, John Cena, to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. In a show of raw power and ruthless aggression, Lesnar followed his defeat of The Undertaker at WrestleMania with his dominance of the golden boy (another shocker for the WWE Universe).

The mid-card featured Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship, Paige vs. AJ Lee for the Divas Championship and a grudge match between Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella. Both Ziggler and Paige claimed their respective titles (for a second time) that night and Stephanie McMahon pedigreed Brie Bella for the win after the now infamous “Bella Betrayal” of Nikki.

This show featured high drama and great action, even if it didn’t deliver Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins like a PPV should!

Runner up: WrestleMania XXX

Pipebomb! of the Year: AJ Lee’s Bella Bombshell

AJ Lee vs. The Bella Twins

Ironically, this award is named in honor of CM Punk (AJ Lee’s real-life husband), who famously walked out of the WWE this year. Last year, AJ’s scathing rant against the entire Diva’s Division earned her this category. This year, a more targeted focus has done it again:

Pre-Match: “Congratulations Nikki [Bella]. You’ve found a way to turn my life’s work into a shiny new accessory. Seriously though, the title goes so well with your shoes, oh my God! And Brie [Bella], lesbi-honest, you should be proud of yourself too. You did the impossible. You proved that you’re an even bigger skank than your sister!”

Post-Match: “And there it is – it takes two Bella Twins to be the champion! But two of you don’t even come close to being half the woman I am! You want to cheat? You want to kiss your way to a title? It’s about time somebody breaks it to the Bellas – talent is not sexually transmitted!” – AJ Lee, RAW, November 24

Runner up: “The one behind the one in twenty-one and one.” -Paul Heyman, RAW (April 7)

NXT Superstar of the Year: Sami Zayn

(new category, 2014)

Sami Zayn 2

Sami Zayn spent much of the year courting the NXT Championship. Despite not winning the title, it’d be hard to argue that there’s anyone in NXT with a more impressive ring style or charisma. Zayn is naturally likeable and his quest to the top of NXT is one every fan can support. This decision is heavily influenced by Zayn’s showing against Cesaro at NXT Arrival on February 27 – and one can only hope that when Zayn reaches the main-roster, that he and Cesaro have a chance to show the world on the grandest stage of all for the businesses top prize.

Runner up: Adrian Neville

NXT Diva of the Year: Charlotte Flair

(new category, 2014)

Charlotte Flair

Paige’s departure for the main-roster freed up a spot in the NXT Women’s Division and Charlotte Flair, daughter of ring legend Ric Flair, took it. Since her debut in NXT, Flair has improved greatly and had an incredible showing against Natalya for the NXT Women’s Championship. On a quest to revolutionize women’s wrestling, Charlotte Flair has spent the year atop her division and looks poised to breakout on the main-roster.

Runner up: Sasha Banks

Moment of the Year: The End of “The Streak”

Lesnar def. Undertaker at Mania 30

Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania came to a screeching halt in New Orleans. Paul Heyman’s client, Brock Lesnar, soundly defeated “The Phenom,” and brought the ‘Mania streak to 21-1. Undertaker didn’t seem like the Undertaker of old – the match itself was awful, but the moment and surprise on everyone’s face did what needed to be done.

For two decades, ‘Taker had been undefeated – so fans were right to assume the streak would live on forever. What happened on April 6 was one of the few surprises professional wrestling had left to offer.

This moment places atop a year full of great moments ranging from Daniel Bryan’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship win at WrestleMania XXX and the WWE debut of Sting at Survivor Series.

Runner up: Daniel Bryan wins the title (‘Mania 30); Sting debuts at Survivor Series.

Comeback of the Year: Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar

Can one even argue against Brock Lesnar for this category? Since returning to the WWE, Lesnar has ended the legendary “Streak” of the Undertaker and made quick work of John Cena to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Lesnar is an imposing figure with an unmatched aggression in today’s WWE. That’s not to say he can’t be touched, he’s just built so high up that only a superstar like John Cena or Randy Orton could bring him down. Then again, there’s always room for a surprise – and nobody knows this better than Lesnar.

Runner up: Alicia Fox

Valet of the Year: Lana

Lana

Through her alignment with the dominant Rusev and her anti-American allegiance to Russia, “The Ravishing Russian” Lana has easily been one of the most polarizing characters in the WWE. She constantly berates the American way of life and President Obama in favor of Russian masculinity and President Vladimir Putin. Her antics have guided Rusev to a United States Championship reign, embroiled her in a sub-feud with Zeb Colter (another manager who put Lana on his “deportation list”) and garnered her huge reactions when saying things like, “Your emasculated nation will be forced to drop to its knees!” (RAW, June 16)

Lana is by far, the greatest valet since the Attitude Era. She’s beautiful, but her words and actions cut like knives, especially when she screams her catchphrase, “Rusev, Crush!”

Runner up:  Zeb Colter

Most Improved Wrestler of the Year: Nikki Bella

Nikki Bella

Just a few short years ago, I (like many) dismissed The Bella Twins – but last year, Brie Bella showcased her vast in-ring improvements, and this year, it was Nikki’s turn. Nikki Bella, unlike Brie, has a flashier in-ring style and a more power-centric arsenal that includes her new finisher the Rack Attack. While it could be said that Brie improved as well (she main-evented RAW twice and wrestled Stephanie McMahon!), Nikki’s come further.

Last year, I ranked Nikki Bella as the best reality TV personality (under the TV Awards) for her work on Total Divas - and this year, I’m calling her the most improved in-ring grappler. In a matter of six months, she’s gone from being a mediocre performer with a limited arsenal to being a deserving Divas Champion. She’s received continued attention through Total Divas and has double-crossed and feuded with Brie Bella.

These moments have allowed Nikki to become a relevant component to a once struggling division that was once held down by inexperienced wrestlers like Nikki just a few short years ago.

Runner up: Cesaro

Non-Wrestling Personality of the Year: Paul Heyman

Heyman

Paul Heyman is the “one behind the one in twenty-one and one.” He’s number one, that’s clear. Heyman has always been a man people have loved to hate – but when he shockingly returned to WWE in 2012, people started to view him as somewhat of a savior. Since his return, he guided CM Punk to the longest WWE Championship reign of the present era – and now, his client Brock Lesnar has done the unthinkable. With Heyman by his side, Lesnar has run through two of WWE’s preeminent superstars (Undertaker, Cena) – and Heyman is never going to let anyone forget it. It makes the fans hate him, but his arrogance is why fans love him.

Runner up: Stephanie McMahon

Feud of the Year: Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton

Orton-Rollins

Rollins and Orton have everything it takes to be a super-feud, the kind that spans years. As part of The Authority, Orton and Rollins spent the year vying for the top spot. Orton began as the “face of the WWE,” and champion, but then Seth Rollins became “Mr. Money in the Bank.” Their power struggle and tension boiled under the surface for months – and in the weeks before Survivor Series, they exploded.

With a handful of encounters to their credit, this feud is more based on inner-faction struggling than actual in-ring competition. Though, the few times Orton and Rollins have collided, the action has been electric (and Rollins is quite possibly the spark to reignite Orton’s career). Rollins has emerged as a new main eventer – and a curb stomp to Orton has sent “The Viper” out of action. When Orton returns, we can expect the pay-off.

Runner up: The Authority vs. Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella

Match of the Year: Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro (NXT Arrival, Feb. 27)

Zayn vs. Cesaro - NXT Arrival

Sami Zayn and Cesaro met for their “final encounter” at NXT Arrival on February 27. What transpired is easily the best wrestling match of the year!

Prior to the bout, Cesaro, on the main-roster, had pinned then champion Randy Orton and had fought hard against John Cena. He had tons of momentum. So imagine the rub Zayn would get from defeating such a competitor. While Zayn’s victory didn’t come to pass, what happened instead was a match with incredible action and that had the crowd involved from start to finish (chants: “We the People,” “Olé,” and “This is Awesome!”).

Match Highlights:

  • Zayn dives through the ropes from the floor; Cesaro catches him with an uppercut (crowd chant: “Holy shit!”)
  • Zayn attempts a moonsault to Cesaro; Cesaro catches him, powerslam onto the ramp
  • Zayn exploder suplexes Cesaro into the turnbuckle; Zayn connects with a Blue Thunder Bomb
  • Cesaro counters the Koji Clutch
  • Cesaro follows the Cesaro Swing with a huge uppercut and vicious head stomp
  • Cesaro counters a frankensteiner, lifts Zayn for a powerbomb; Zayn counters last minute with a frankensteiner
  • Cesaro kicks out after the Helluva Kick
  • Zayn with a German suplex to Cesaro following a series of uppercuts from Cesaro
  • Cesaro with a spinning uppercut and the Neutralizer for the win
  • Post-Match show of respect

This was a perfect showcase for Zayn, who should have no problem finding his way to the main-roster – and Cesaro! Now, let’s hope WWE pairs the two for a full championship program once Zayn arrives.

Runner up: Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins (RAW, Nov. 3); The Shield vs. The Wyatts (Elimination Chamber, Feb. 23)

Diva of the Year: AJ Lee

AJ Lee

AJ Lee has reigned over the Divas’ Division for two years at this point. We all knew it would be this way because AJ has superstar written all over her. What made AJ stand out this year was that her feud with Vickie Guerrero was (briefly) revisited as Guerrero was exiting the company. Vickie Guerrero tried stacking the deck against the “Black Widow” by creating the Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational at WrestleMania XXX.

While the multi-Diva match was what we’ve come to expect from multi-Diva matches, it was noteworthy because AJ Lee became the first woman to defend the “butterfly-emblazoned” championship at WrestleMania in the title’s seven year history. This is a testament to her star-power; the fact the she defeated the entire division as WrestleMania reinforces that testament. The last woman to enter and leave as champion was Trish Stratus at WrestleMania 21 (in 2005!).

Since AJ Lee arrived in the division, WWE has hired legendary women’s wrestler Sara Del Ray to be a trainer, and the main-roster has become populated with skilled grapplers like Paige, Emma and the resurging Alicia Fox. Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks are on the horizon.

With AJ at the front of the pack, the division has experienced elevation and the title has gained prestige. She remains untouchable on the mic – and in the ring, she’s great to watch.

Runner(s) up:  The Bella Twins

 

Superstar of the Year: Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins betrayed The Shield. Seth Rollins joined The Authority. Seth Rollins became Mr. Money in the Bank. Seth Rollins became a main-eventer with a bad-ass finisher. This was the year of Seth Rollins (though, it looked poised to be Bray Wyatt’s early on).

Rollins emerged as the breakout star of The Shield, though depending on who you’re asking, it could also be Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose. The problem with both of them though, is that kayfabe or not, they both endured absences from programming. Seth Rollins did not. Rollins was tasked with balancing feuds with John Cena, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns – and so far, he’s emerged victorious.

Some of the most impressive in-ring action belongs to Rollins, as do some really cringe-inducing moments. Who could forget him curb stomping Dean Ambrose’s head onto a cinder block – or how about Randy Orton’s on the steel stairs? Better yet, who could forget Rollins curb stomping Brock Lesnar and getting away with it? This year, Rollins was everywhere – and he was the man to beat.

Runner up: Brock Lesnar

There they are; the selections for “Best of WWE 2014.” Agree or disagree? Let me know and why.

 

The 2014 Bobby James Awards: IMPACT Wrestling

Welcome to the first installment of the 2014 Bobby James Awards. It’s time again to start celebrating the best of the year – and for IMPACT Wrestling, there were a lot of great moments leading up to what should be an amazing 2015.

With IMPACT relocating to Destination America in January 2015, it’s time to reflect on the wrestlers and moments featured on one of Spike TV’s best shows. Here are the best of IMPACT:

Tag Team of the Year:

The Wolves (Eddie Edwards, Davey Richards)

The Wolves were far and away the single greatest tag team in all of pro wrestling this year. Reigning over TNA’s Tag Team Division twice, The Wolves unseated The BroMans (Jessie Godderz, Robbie E) in a Spring program to claim their first titles. The four participants were involved in high octane matches that really began to introduce these marvelous competitors to the world.

Then summer happened – and The Wolves propelled themselves to the No. 1 spot. They emerged victorious from a three-way feud with two of wrestling’s most iconic tag teams – The Hardys (Jeff and Matt) and Team 3D (Bully Ray and Devon). Their encounters were intense – and the innovation in their tag-team wrestling was unrivaled anywhere else.

The Wolves helped make IMPACT Wrestling the place to see incredible tag action – and through their innovative style and chemistry, they helped make IMPACT a destination for those of us who crave five-star matches with a bit of nostalgia.

Runners Up: Team 3D

X-Division Wrestler of the Year:

Low Ki

The exhilarating Low Ki returned to IMPACT Wrestling in 2014. Immediately, he set his sights on becoming the X-Division Champion once more. Upon his return, Low Ki was involved in a number of championship matches and tournaments, but ultimately lost out to Samoa Joe. An untimely injury would see Joe vacate the championship, resulting in a four-way match to determine a new champion – and finally, Low Ki emerged victorious.

Low Ki’s high-flying, smash-mouth style makes him one of the most exciting stars to watch in the ring – and the perfect representative of a division known for its daring action.

Runner Up: “The Great” Sanada

Moment of the Year:

Dixie Carter and “#ItHappens”

Bully Ray and Dixie Carter. Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

Bully Ray and Dixie Carter. Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

For months, TNA President Dixie Carter tormented the IMPACT Wrestling roster and fans, most notably TNA Hall of Famer Bully Ray. Bully vowed to exact his revenge in a way only a member of Team 3D knows how – by putting Dixie Carter through a table! Carter surrounded herself with brawn (namely Ethan Carter III, Rhino and MMA star King Mo) while continuing to stoke the flames and always managing to slip just out of Bully’s reach.

That changed on the IMPACT dated August 7, when Dixie Carter was powerbombed from the turnbuckle through a table! A locker room and the fans rejoiced!

Runner Up: Gail Kim’s chair shot to the face (Feb. 20)

Rookie of the Year:

The Wolves (Eddie Edwards, Davey Richards)

The Wolves. Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

The Wolves. Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

The Wolves were the preeminent stars of IMPACT Wrestling in 2014 – there’s no doubt about it, which is incredible considering that they debuted just this year (alongside Samoa Joe in a winning effort against The BroMans). Early in their run, Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards offered an exciting glimpse of what was to come – and not only have they delivered, they’ve shown individual abilities that could be very exciting for the X-Division. Time will tell, but for now, “Let the hunt begin.”

Runner Up: Havok

Non-Wrestling Personality of the Year:

Dixie Carter

Dixie Carter (center). Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

Dixie Carter (center). Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

Despite her four-month absence, there can be no question that “Queen,” “Madam” Dixie Carter is the non-wrestling personality of the year. The sweet, twang-infused voice of the villainous TNA President was only rivaled by the suits of Rockstar Spud, her assistant for a solid portion of the year. Through the year, Carter abused her power in feuds and encounters with the likes of AJ Styles, Bully Ray and even MVP – until that memorable table spot sent her packing from the airwaves.

Did I mention the return of the 6-sided ring though? Dixie Carter also had something to do with that!

Runner Up: Rockstar Spud

Feud of the Year:

Dixie Carter vs. Bully Ray

Dixie Carter. IMPACT Wrestling, 2014.

Dixie Carter. IMPACT Wrestling, 2014.

Just the idea of an employee taking on the boss makes people salivate. Factor in the employee being one of the greatest tag team wrestlers in the world and a former World Champion, and it becomes a full-on drool. Dixie Carter and her collection of muscle tormented Bully Ray for months. She threatened his job and had him attacked (verbally and physically) at every turn.

This year, Carter was a tyrant – and Bully Ray was the rebellion. Fans craved that moment, when the name “Dixie Carter” would be added to the star-studded list of women that have been sent crashing through a table. The feud came to a head on the August 7 episode of IMPACT, which was followed by reports that Dixie Carter had suffered a broken back.

Fun-Fact: This is the second consecutive year that Dixie Carter has been part of the “Feud of the Year.”

Runner Up: The Wolves vs. Team 3D vs. The Hardys

Match of the Year:

Tag Team Championship Series – Match #3: Full Metal Mayhem

The Wolves (c) vs. The Hardys vs. Team 3D

Full Metal Mayhem, October 8. Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

Full Metal Mayhem, October 8. Photo Credit: IMPACT Wrestling.

On the October 8 edition of IMPACT Wrestling, the Tag Team Title Series came to an epic conclusion. The Wolves, The Hardys and Team 3D met in a “Full Metal Mayhem” match to determine who would leave the arena as champions. The match was filled with incredible action and plenty of “holy shit” moments including: Jeff Hardy crashing through a table from the top turnbuckle, Eddie Edwards falling outside the ring from the top of a ladder, Matt Hardy driving Davey Richards through a table with a leg drop from a ladder, Devon being sent through two tables (after competing with a groin tear!), and Eddie Edwards powerbombing Matt Hardy from the ladder as Davey Richards secured the win!

…and who could forget that powerbomb Bully Ray gave Davey Richards onto the guardrail bridge!?

This match was one of four by these teams that could have easily been named “Match of the Year,” but what made this special was the symbolic passing of the torch. As Team 3D entered the TNA Hall of Fame, The Wolves reinvigorated interest in tag team wrestling through this epic feud. Their win was just that much sweeter.

Runner Up: Knockout’s Championship: Havok (c) vs. Gail Kim (IMPACT, Nov. 5)

The “Queen Dixie” Mic. Award:

Dixie “Fires” the Fans!

Dixie Carter "fires" the fans. IMPACT Wrestling. 2014.

Dixie Carter “fires” the fans. IMPACT Wrestling. 2014.

Dixie Carter went from being a lukewarm villain to being one of the most despised people in all of professional wrestling. This promo is one of the many reasons why, here’s what she said that earned her a Bobby James Award:

“[To the fans] Would you people shut up? [Fires Snitsky and Ryklon] … you’re all fired, too! Get the hell out of my building! [To a female fan] Pick your purse up lady and get out of here! [To everyone] GET OUT OF MY BUILDING! Pick your shit up and get out of here!” – Dixie Carter, IMPACT (Aug. 7)

By the time Dixie Carter had said this, she’d rid IMPACT Wrestling of homegrown star AJ Styles and was embroiled in a feud against Bully Ray and the fans. This was one of her most impassioned moments and most intense reactions to the people – then she went through a table!

Runner Up: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your champion speaking. Please return your women to their full, upright positions.” -Magnus, IMPACT (Jan. 3)

Knockout of the Year:

Gail Kim

Since debuting in the major promotions, Gail Kim has evolved to become one of the most respected women’s wrestlers in the world. She consistently delivers exceptional in-ring work – and those efforts saw her carry the Knockout’s Championship into this year. After losing the title this past spring, she reclaimed the gold, her fourth reign, and embarked on a memorable feud against a ruthless newcomer named Havok.

The intense battles have reminded fans of the title’s inaugural days when Gail battled the likes of Awesome Kong. Havok is equally as imposing, meaning that the ultra talented Knockout has to keep innovating and evolving – and she’s done just that. Last year’s “Wrestler of the Year” once again reigns supreme over the Knockouts division.

Fun-Fact: This is Gail Kim’s sixth Bobby James Award (fifth for her work in TNA, one for WWE), visit the history page to see them all!

Runner Up: Havok

Wrestler of the Year:

Ethan Carter III

While Ethan Carter III, the nephew of President Dixie Carter, has tasted mild defeat, it’s worth noting that he’s technically undefeated since his rookie beginning in TNA on October 20, 2013. That’s quite the run when considering a list of adversaries that includes “The Icon” Sting, Kurt Angle, Bully Ray, Tommy Dreamer and Rhino. His encounters with each have ranged in ferocity and some have been all-out bloody mat wars.

Carter spent time alongside Dixie Carter, leading to some intense moments and engaged in a feud with Rockstar Spud that could threaten his streak. Additionally, he’s a complete and engaging character! He’s got the look, the charisma and in-ring ability to “be the man,” despite the “You can’t wrestle” dissention from the fans. His matches and feuds have elicited great crowd reactions and involvement, despite him never having captured TNA gold (yet).

I would venture to say it’s only a matter of time before EC3’s reigning over IMPACT as the TNA World Heavyweight Champion (but a torn bicep might delay the start of that).

Fun-Fact: EC3 was recognized as “Rookie of the Year” last year!

 Runner Up: Bully Ray

Did I get it right? Let me know in the comments below.

Why Jurassic World will be the best “Jurassic” since the original

Jurassic-World-Comic-Con-artwork

San Diego Comic-Con Jurassic World Poster. 2014.

For months we’ve been teased by Jurassic World (coming June 12, 2015). From the San Diego Comic Con poster – to the trailer that arrived two days early – it’s become clear: Jurassic World is going to be the best entry in the franchise since the original Jurassic Park (in 1993)!

Before I begin, here’s the trailer:

Significant factors:

1. The trailer depicts a serious tonality akin to the original Jurassic Park - meaning this installment should be instantly better than that abhorrent thing known as Jurassic Park 3 (which boasted a great deal of stupid comedy). And so far, no dinosaurs have been shown in Los Angeles, so it should be better than The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

2. Owen (Chris Pratt) shows concern over a genetic hybrid created by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a team of geneticists – which might include Henry Wu (BD Wong), the only character from Jurassic Park included in Jurassic World. Owen’s concerns regarding the animal’s functional intelligence echo the original concerns of Dr. Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Sattler (Dr. Sattler). Not to mention, these two actors are really quite good and should have some really great moments/chemistry.

…and from what I’ve seen, Owen appears to be following the Dr. Grant formula!

3. Jurassic World is fully-functional – with lots of visitors. This will undoubtedly lead to the exploration of “Chaos Theory” as described by Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in Jurassic Park.

4. The score and visuals have been contemporized – and so far, the dinosaurs look incredible – and the music sounds a-maz-ing!

5. Jurassic World is set on Isla Nublar, 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park – and is as John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) originally envisioned the park – meaning this movie is totally connected to the original!

Chris Pratt in Jurassic World (2015).

Chris Pratt in Jurassic World (2015).

I’ve deduced all of this from the two-minute trailer. If you love Jurassic Park as much as I do, none of this is really surprising. You may have even noticed the fossilized mosquito in amber (another homage to the original) and the introduction of aquatic dinosaurs! I may not be Sherlock Holmes after all, but I can tell you – from the small amount of comedy in the trailer and the serious tonality – it would appear as though the filmmaker wants this to be a serious movie – as it should be!

I should also mention that director/screenwriter Colin Trevorrow, is a relative newcomer. With Jurassic World set to be his mainstream, blockbuster debut (he’d previously directed 2012 indie film Safety Not Guaranteed), Trevorrow will have something to prove. The possibility of a franchise – and his success as a big-budget director – will be dependent upon Jurassic World. He’ll be out to make a name for himself – to offer something new to the sci-fi genre – like Steven Spielberg (who serves as Executive Producer here) did with movies like JAWS (1975) and Jurassic Park (1993).

I’ve been waiting to return to Isla Nublar and now…it’s happening – and I can’t freakin’ wait! Time “Must go faster!”

Visit the Jurassic World websites (awesome graphics!)

My comment on Ferguson

It’s easy to blame Darren Wilson for the death of an unarmed black man named Michael Brown – because it happened.

What seems to be more difficult for everyone – from the media to the violent demonstrators – is to hold Michael Brown accountable for his own death. As stated in last night’s decision, evidence shows (and a jury agreed) that Michael Brown had committed a crime prior to his encounter with Darren Wilson. Brown is also believed to have assaulted Wilson upon their initial encounter.

This is not a case of an unarmed black man being shot because he wouldn’t move out of the road – as was an early media narrative. Nor is this a case of an innocent black man’s death. Michael Brown is not the victim of a hate crime – nor is he the face an equality movement deserves.

Certainly, my opinion will be unpopular – but how much commentary have we seen about “the age of entitlement?” Apply that to this situation. Michael Brown doesn’t get a pass because he was black and the officer is white. He committed a robbery and assaulted a police officer. Those two criminal acts have nothing to do with the color of his skin. He is responsible for his poor decision-making prior to – and during – his death. He is not a martyr and might still be alive today if he’d thought about his actions.

The media, whom I believe have acted irresponsibly, have fed people a sympathetic narrative. They’ve run front-page stories about racial disparities in law enforcement (in predominantly black communities) and have provided editorial upon editorial about Michael Brown and what it means to be black in the United States. The media – and many people on social media – have spent too much time being politically correct instead of accurate.

For example, when the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran the front-page story about racial disparities in law enforcement, they highlighted the percentages of the forces that were black and white. One predominantly black community’s police force was 93% white and 7% black. Instead of investigating the story further – the Post ran with it, in timely fashion. As a reader, I found that article frustrating because, yes, it says there is a huge disparity in that force, but it never explores why. I want to know what percentage of applicants were black and what percentage of black applicants were hired (relative to whites). I want a complete story – not a propaganda piece.

In fact, I’m sure there could be a discussion of the media’s influence in the Michael Brown narrative since August. A sympathetic attitude has evolved in the media, yet people seem split on the issue – and the only community that will suffer is the black community. Time and time again, we’ve seen “peaceful” protests – but on the next page, or in the next clip, we see footage or read stories of burning buildings and cars, shot officers and looting.

Such violent demonstration will not advance the cause – it will only further the divide. From these incidents, stereotypes will be reinforced and new racists will emerge – from both communities (white and black).

I was reading an article in the Post Dispatch yesterday (from Nov. 22) titled, “Coffee, reality TV and Michael Brown.” In the article, entrepreneur Jason Wilson discusses his failed attempt to open a coffee shop (Chronicle Coffee) in a black community and the cancelation of a reality TV show by Lifetime. Wilson said he “envisioned a space for civil discourse and community engagement.”

Wilson also stated that had the coffee shop remained open, he could have hosted forums discussing Michael Brown – and had the reality TV series not been cancelled, he could have had a national platform to discuss the issue. I found these notions frustrating. To think that an entrepreneur, like the media and many of the violent demonstrators, would use Michael Brown’s name to boost a business – a TV program – or a message. Where’s the outrage for that? There’s outrage because Michael Brown is dead; but not because people want to profit from his death?

In that same article, Jason Wilson said he had plans to re-open Chronicle Coffee, closer to St. Louis University (a predominantly white university) because, “The reality is we need white people for this to be a success.”

This was frustrating because that statement alone presents a double-standard. Is race not what the past three months have been about? Is it not why people are being killed and businesses being burned down? Why is it acceptable for a black entrepreneur to “realize” he needs white people? For a business to operate successfully, you need people. Stop thinking in terms of if you’re going to serve whites or blacks – and start thinking in terms of people in general.

If we did this more often, this race discussion would eventually become obsolete.

For some reason though, we don’t – and this Michael Brown case is one of many reasons why we don’t. When we look at this case, over and over we see that a white cop shot an unarmed black teenager. That’s the face value of it – and that superficiality is used to justify violent demonstration.

Following the Grand Jury’s decision last night I read reports of – and saw images of – domestic terrorism. I condemn these actions – in fact, did we, as a nation, not involve ourselves in a decade-long war in the Middle East because of similar actions? We did. Yet, where was this loud outcry for the innocent men, women and children who died then? Where was the outcry for the discrimination against Muslims and Arab-Americans? This is no different. Burning buildings and cars – the destruction of life and property. Terror is running rampant in and around Ferguson. People are being shot and dying. Livelihood is being taken away. This is not progress.

Again, Michael Brown is not the face an equality movement deserves. He is not a civil rights leader or activist that belongs in a discussion with names like Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks. He was not persecuted because of his skin color – that’s something that’s evolved to be the issue for this case.

I’m frustrated – because this situation’s being presented as black against white – not as a situation of people. Jason Wilson was right in his assertion that “we need white people.” I believe that. I believe that for racial disparities to disappear blacks need whites and whites need blacks. We need to stop seeing color – and start seeing people. It’s never been totally white against black – look to the abolitionists in the 1700-1800s – or to the activists of the 1950-1960s – we accomplish more together.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Lawrence soars as the Mockingjay in Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1Is there anything Jennifer Lawrence can’t do? It’s no secret I love The Hunger Games franchise and Lawrence’s work as Katniss Everdeen. In this franchise I believe she’s been her strongest, ever. Forget Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle – neither movie has given us the emotional range, character depth, or beautiful restraint The Hunger Games has. I honestly believe the Academy gets it wrong every year they nominate her for the David O. Russell “indie,” over this highly successful franchise.

Why can’t she be nominated for a blockbuster?

As Katniss, Lawrence has consistently delivered riveting performances – and in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, she does it again. Whether she’s acting as the beacon of hope for the people of Panem – or if she’s caught in a close-up – or reacting to Peeta’s messages from the Capitol – or [surprisingly] singing, she’s on-point. Her work deserves recognition – and in the absence of a David O. Russell collaboration this year (she and David O. Russell have Joy coming in December 2015), hopefully she’ll finally get the nod for giving Katniss life!

I can’t say I’ll be surprised if she’s overlooked, though – in favor of an actress from a quieter, more perceptively “artsy” movie – but I think it’d be a mistake. It’s been widely discussed online that leading roles for actresses – and strong performances filling those roles have been scarce this year. Yet, here we have Jennifer Lawrence – giving us a character that eclipses her celebrity. When you look at that screen – despite her huge success – you don’t think, “That’s Jennifer Lawrence.” You convincingly say, “That’s Katniss Everdeen.”

That deserves recognition – at the very least, a nomination.

Effie Trinket - MockingjayAs for the movie itself. I liked it. I really did. The continued work of Lawrence’s co-stars keeps me intrigued and interested. There’s never a spare moment wasted with this group of talent. Just as I’ve been vocal about Jennifer Lawrence’s performances, I’ve also championed Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. I love her. The way she presents the character is magnificent – especially in this installment with a more restrictive color and costuming palette. She adds just the right amount of humor and seriousness – and I think she too is overlooked – like much of this franchise has been.

From the start, The Hunger Games has presented an intriguing concept – and it’s ignited a “what if” discussion about the future and the possibility of this type of life. That premise has resonated with people – and in turn we’ve grown attached to these movies and characters (or, as least I have). The films have been exquisitely made and on various technical levels (especially costume design, score and editing) they excel. This movie is quieter and more brooding – to prepare us for what should be an adrenaline-inducing and emotional conclusion to The Hunger Games.

Mockingjay Part 1 serves the purpose of getting us there – and that’s okay. It’s nice to take a break from the action and to explore the characters in the wake of the Quarter Quell. For an example of this, look to any scene with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Hutcherson was good before – primarily because of his interactions with Katniss, but without her, the character’s propelled to the next level. Something’s wrong – he’s notably darker – and now, Peeta is his own entity. In some form, he can exist without Katniss.

I’ve skimmed over some of the reviews for Mockingjay Part 1 – and the reception’s been a little more mixed than positive (like the first two films) – and all fingers seem to be pointing to the lack of action. I, for one, am entirely fine with a story taking precedence over explosions in a big-budget feature film. I commend director Francis Lawrence for providing us with an opportunity for that. Surely he had to know it’d be a less popular, but necessary, decision.

Francis Lawrence has certainly added his signature to the franchise, earning more critical acclaim. Unlike the first installment, Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1 look and feel big-budget, polished and more well-made overall. Though I feel like Gary Ross’ initial interpretation – though it was a little grittier, shakier and in your face – was stylistically more appropriate for the franchise. Honestly, I would be in favor of more close-ups and less wide shots in the second and third movies. The way Ross did it makes it feel a little darker; the way Francis Lawrence does it makes it feel more cinematic – more beautiful. I’d prefer an in-between – and that’s almost exactly what is delivered with Mockingjay Part 1. Perhaps Mockingjay Part 2 can be The Hunger Games we’re all craving!

Grade: B+