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 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
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)
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
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 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)
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”
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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!”).
- 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 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 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.