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.

 

“Excuse Me! Excuse Me! I said Excuse Me!” Report: Vickie Guerrero leaving WWE

Vickie GuerreroThe ‘wrasslin’ rumor ’round town is that WWE’s Slammy Award-winning “Cougar in charge,” Vickie Guerrero will be leaving the company shortly after WrestleMania 30.  The story appears on Diva-Dirt (Report: Vickie Guerrero Leaving WWE) and various other wrestling sites.  If Guerrero is leaving, the day she does will be bittersweet.  She’s the woman the WWE Universe has loved to hate for the better part of a decade.

Guerrero, who debuted in 2005, has been one of the most clearly defined and polarizing characters in WWE, as well as one of the most prominently featured.  Famous for her dirty tactics (much like her husband, the late Eddie Guerrero), her “Cougar” persona, and her catchphrase “Excuse Me!”, Guerrero can ignite a WWE crowd in ways few performers can.

Over the course of her run, she’s been involved with top talent and has several accomplishments to her credit.  She’s one of a select group of women to hold a victory at WrestleMania [26], she’s been the General Manager of both RAW and Smackdown, and she’s worked high-profile programs with Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Edge, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, LayCool (Michelle McCool and Layla), AJ Lee, Brad Maddox, and the McMahon family.

In competition she defeated “Santina Marella” to become “Miss WrestleMania,” she’s won a 10-Divas tag team match (WrestleMania 26), and she’s notably pinned Hall of Famer Trish Stratus and WWE’s current it girl and Diva’s Champion, AJ Lee in their respective programs.  The only thing she hasn’t done is become Diva’s Champion herself, which is a surprise given the state of the Diva’s division ca. 2010-2011 and her constant power plays.

Then again, she still could find a way to take the title from AJ Lee and retire as Diva’s Champion (a la Trish Stratus)! My final hope is that WWE gives her time to say farewell to the WWE Universe.  Few women can claim to have had a run in the WWE like Vickie Guerrero – she’s had a great run as a non-wrestling personality – and to that, I can only say Viva la Vickie! 

__________________________________________________________________________________________

DID YOU KNOW?

Bobby James Award Trivia:  Vickie Guerrero is a 2-time Bobby James Award winner.  I named her “Valet of the Year” in 2012.  The same year, she shared “Feud of the Year” with AJ Lee.

Diva Dream Matches: AJ Lee vs. Kharma

The Competitors:

AJ LEE:  Diva’s Champion (current, longest reigning), former RAW General Manager

KHARMA:  2012 Royal Rumble entrant (third woman ever)

Background:

Diva’s Champion AJ Lee and Kharma have had similar, yet vastly different paths to the WWE.  Lee was an indy worker prior to being signed to a developmental contract with WWE and competing on the all Diva’s season of NXT.  Since then, Lee has proven her star-power by moving from the main-event scene outside the women’s division, to re-establishing the women’s divison and restoring prestige to the women’s title.

Kharma on the other hand is a well-documented, world class wrestler.  From her training in Japan and days on the indy circuit to her noteworthy run with TNA Wrestling (as Awesome Kong) and debut in WWE, Kharma has really climbed the mountain of success.  Yet, despite having debuted with WWE, Kharma has yet to conquer the place of the immortals.  An untimely pregnancy and subsequent complications meant her WWE career ended after whirlwind month (in 2011) and a 2012 Royal Rumble entry.

Bleacher Report recently posted a scenario for Kharma’s WWE return.  Inside the article, they mention that Kharma has unfinished business in WWE – namely with The Bella Twins.  But before that feud could resume (presumably), Kharma would need to go through the WWE’s reigning queen, AJ Lee – which would be a perfect program for the upcoming WrestleMania 30!

As Bleacher Report notes, the Diva’s Championship has never been defended at WrestleMania (since it’s creation in 2008!).  Lee has certainly earned the right to be on the card defending her title – and she’s certainly earned the right to defend it against a competitor beyond Total Divas (sorry Nattie!).

AJ vs. Kharma would play out one of two ways, as a David and Goliath contest – or as a squash match (the latter of which would/could destroy everything AJ’s worked for).  Could you imagine AJ applying the Black Widow to Kharma?  How about Kharma sealing AJ’s fate with her signature Implant Buster?

What exactly would this match look like?  I’m not sure, I think AJ (with Tamina Snuka by her side) could stand a chance against a foe like Kharma – but I think the sheer power of Kharma alone would be too great – and I have a feeling AJ wouldn’t be skipping anywhere in the immediate future.

Predicted Winner:  Kharma

Likelihood:  Strong Possibility

Missed Opportunity?:  No, not at all.  In fact, the opportunity is now - this year!  AJ appears to be unstoppable – it’d take someone like Kharma to derail AJ’s little crazy train of terror.  Besides that, the reintroduction of Kharma would only elevate the division further.  There would be fresh possibilities and dynamics.  Kharma’s karma being served to The Bellas…or the possibility of Kharma vs. Natalya…or maybe even the luring of the “Glamazon” Beth Phoenix from retirement…or the main-roster debut of Sara Del Ray.  Anything is possible – but it would require AJ Lee vs. Kharma to be the launchpad – the point of no return.

January 8, 2014 | A Day of Infamy in the WWE

WWE Network 2-24-14For the past week, WWE has been teasing a major announcement.  Fans were all but sure the press conference was about the launch of the WWE Network – this much was evident through the appearance of some of the biggest names in WWE history, people like Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, John Cena, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.  As it turns out, the WWE Network is officially a go beginning February 24, 2014.

For $9.99 per month (with a minimum 6 month commitment), through the WWE App, fans will have access to all 12 live pay-per-views, including WrestleMania 30 – exclusive original and first-run shows and content – encores of RAW, Smackdown, and Main Event – and access to WWE’s extensive video library (including WCW and ECW pay-per-views and shows).  For a full listing of shows and content that will be available on the WWE Network, click here.

Beyond the WWE Network announcement, there is some somber news coming out of the WWE Universe today:

Kaitlyn competed in her last match on WWE Main Event against Diva’s Champion AJ Lee.  The match was reminiscent of last summer’s impressive and memorable championship program that helped re-establish the Diva’s division.  From her days as a “green” NXT hopeful (and eventual season three winner) to her run as champion, Kaitlyn drastically improved her skills in the ring and became a wildly popular member of the WWE’s roster.  The former Diva’s Champion was granted her release on her own “terms.”  Since news broke earlier today, both Kaitlyn and her fiancée took to twitter to tease a huge announcement.  #ThankYouKaitlyn.

UPDATE (1/9/2014):  For what they’re worth, “reports” indicate that Kaitlyn was unhappy with her position in WWE and subsequently requested her release.  Kaitlyn was prominently featured in Diva’s Championship programs on WWE TV from the end of 2011 (against Eve Torres) to late summer/early autumn 2013 (against AJ Lee).  Since her reign as Diva’s Champion ended, Kaitlyn was sparsely used on WWE programming (some could argue the successful launch of Total Divas spelled disaster for the popular “Hybrid Diva” and NXT winner).

UPDATE 3 (1/14/2014):  It has been confirmed that WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young has passed away at the age of 90.

UPDATE 2 (1/9/2014 – 10:30 a.m.): Mike Mooneyham stated that Mae Young has been removed from life-support, but is gravely ill and has not passed away.  Mooneyham stated on twitter that “the source who reported her passing received incorrect information.”

UPDATE (1/9/2014):  According to initial reports, Mae Young was taken off life-support on January 8, current reports indicate that she died in the early hours of January 9.

In other news, after being admitted to a hospital last week (and subsequently being released into hospice), WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young passed away at the age of 90.  Young was a true pioneer of women’s wrestling, known to most recent wrestling fans as an associate of fellow Hall of Famer “The Fabulous Moolah,” Lillian Ellison.  Young debuted in 1939 and helped blaze a trail for lady wrestlers all across the country during World War II.  Since then, Young was a women’s champion in her own right and a WWE ambassador in her later years.

Though Young was never a WWE Women’s or Diva’s Champion, she is regarded highly in the professional wrestling community and recognized for her contributions.  Additionally, Mae Young hold the distinction of being the only professional wrestler to perform in nine different decades – a testament of her devotion, love, and dedication to her sport.  RIP Mae Young.  #NineDecadesOfMae.

The 2013 Bobby-james Awards: Best of the WWE

Welcome to the first installment of the 2013 Bobby-james Awards – the Best of WWE.

Released in conjunction with the WWE Slammy Awards, I have selected the performers, matches, and moments that have been –  how would Triple H or Stephanie McMahon say it again? … right, “best for business,” throughout 2013.  I realize that we have just under one month and a final pay-per-view (TLC, Dec. 15) remaining, but I can assure you, these Superstars, Divas, and moments are, without a doubt, the best of the year. Without any further ado, may I present – the Best of WWE:

DIVA of the Year:  AJ Lee

AJ Lee

Diva of the Year: AJ Lee

AJ Lee reigned over 2012 as the Superstar of the year – she was involved in the main event scene and had one of the highest profiles in the WWE.  It seemed as if she’d reached the top.  This begged the question, “Where does AJ go now?” The answer was obvious:  Into the Diva’s Division full-time. Lee transitioned from being Dolph Ziggler’s valet/girlfriend into a full-time competitor and quickly the Diva’s Champion.

As champion, Lee has contested memorable bouts against former champions Kaitlyn, Natalya, and Brie Bella – she’s delivered a “State of my Mind” address, confronted Stephanie McMahon, been part of the main event scene, dropped a “Pipe Bombshell,” and brought prestige back to the Diva’s Championship.  AJ Lee is establishing her legacy as one of the greatest Diva’s of all time – she’s already well on her way to being recognized as one of the most important.

Runners Up:  Kaitlyn (#2), Brie Bella (#3), Natalya (#4)

Return of the Year:  Goldust 

Cody Rhodes and Goldust - RHODES

WWE Tag Team Champions: Cody Rhodes (left) and Goldust (right)

The “Bizarre One” returned to a huge reception during the 2013 Royal Rumble (as the #8 entrant), but this once-off appearance wasn’t enough.  In late summer, Goldust returned to aid his brother (Cody Rhodes) against The Authority (Triple H/Stephanie McMahon) – a quest that initially seemed bleak, but ultimately led to the formation of RHODES and the capture of the WWE Tag Team Championships.  Now, if WWE could just deliver that rumored brother vs. brother feud and WrestleMania match…

Runners Up:  The Bella Twins (#2), Rob Van Dam (#3), Christian (#4)

Tag Team of the Year:  The Shield 

The Shield: Dean Ambrose (left), Roman Reigns (center), Seth Rollins (right)

The Shield: Dean Ambrose (left), Roman Reigns (center), Seth Rollins (right)

After debuting near the end of 2012, it was a foregone conclusion that The Shield would maintain their dominant status as the best tag team/faction in the WWE.  At Extreme Rules, The Shield proved their dominance and swept up every championship they competed for (Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns for the Tag Team Championships, Dean Ambrose for the United States Championship) and have enjoyed lengthy reigns (note: Ambrose is the only reigning champion for The Shield as of this writing).  Then they aligned themselves and briefly did the bidding for The Authority, before moving into a feud with the “Best in the World,” CM Punk to finish off their 2013.    #BelieveInTheShield

Runners Up:  Rhodes (#2), The Wyatt Family (#3), The Usos (#4)

Rookie of the Year:  Fandango

Fandango vignette

Rookie of the Year: Fandango

“Da-da! Da-da-da-da-dada-da…” #Fandangoing #ChaChaLaLa “Fan-dan-goooooo”

By that first line – and just that line alone – you have an idea of who Fandango is.  Mission accomplished.  He (re)debuted atop the mid-card and defeated Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 29.  That catapulted him into the Intercontinental Championship scene, acquired him a permanent valet (Summer Rae), and gave him a more elaborate entrance than he already had.  Did I mention his wildly popular entrance theme (ChaChaLaLa) – or the mass of people “Fandangoing?” Sadly, an ill-timed concussion has put Fandango in a slump – but that doesn’t take away from him being the single most important rookie of the year.

Runners Up:  The Wyatt Family (#2), Curtis Axel (#3), Eva Marie (#4)

Valet of the Year:  Summer Rae

Summer Rae

Fandango and Summer Rae

There has always been an interest in the Fandango girls (after all, this year’s Rookie of the Year is WWE’s version of James Bond) but Summer Rae came to stay, and in the process has made a good name for herself.  Enthusiastically referred to as “Mrs. Fandango” by JBL on commentary, Summer Rae has risen from being the occasional Fandango dancer, to permanent fixture, to a woman with personality and some in-ring skill (as demonstrated by her clashes with Natalya).  I suspect she’ll be a force in the Diva’s Division in the coming years, but for now, the golden-haired beauty is Fandango’s valet – and is she ever good at it.  So good in fact, Summer Rae becomes a trending topic on social media when she’s ringside for a Fandango match.

Runners Up:  Paul Heyman (#2), Zeb Colter (#3), AJ Lee (#4)

Non-Wrestling Personality of the Year:  Stephanie McMahon

Stephanie McMahon

Stephanie McMahon on RAW

The (current) undisputed queen of WWE is a delicious villain.  One half of The Authority, Stephanie McMahon has returned to her “classic” form as a heel.  She’s made life impossible for a list of Superstars and Divas, namely the Big Show, Daniel Bryan, the Rhodes family, Vickie Guerrero, and AJ Lee.  Her summer confrontations with the Diva’s Champion had some clamoring for a would-be epic collision between McMahon and Lee for the strap; and her personal attacks on key stars like Daniel Bryan (remember when she told him he wasn’t an A+ player, he was a B+?), Dusty Rhodes, and the Big Show have proven that when it comes to heel behavior, the McMahons are untouchable.

Runners Up:  Brad Maddox (#2), Vickie Guerrero (#3), John “Bradshaw” Layfield (#4)

Moment of the Year:  AJ Lee’s “Pipe-Bombshell”

AJ Lee speaks to the cast of Total Divas

AJ Lee mocks the cast of Total Divas

WWE moved forward with Total Divas, a scripted reality show.  The show – and it’s Divas – commanded attention on weekly WWE television and the reigning Diva’s Champion was none too happy.  Here is a transcript of the promo she cut, which, to the delight of some wrestling fans, felt laced with animosity – much like CM Punk’s “Pipe Bomb” promo in 2011:

“Do you want to know what I see when I look in that ring?  A bunch of cheap, interchangeable, expendable, useless women – women who have turned to reality television because they just weren’t gifted enough to be actresses – and they just weren’t talented enough to be champion.  I have done more in one year than all of you have done in your entire collective careers.  I have saved your Diva’s division, I have shattered glass ceilings, I have broken down doors.  Why?  So a bunch of ungrateful, stiff plastic mannequins can waltz on through without even as much as a thank you?  You guys can’t even go backstage and shake my hand and look me in the eye because you know that I worked my entire life to get here.  I gave my life to this – and you were just handed fifteen minutes of fame.  I didn’t get here because I was cute – or because I came from some famous wrestling family – or because I sucked (beat) up to the right people.  I got here because I am good.  I earned this championship – and no matter how many red carpets you guys wanna walk in your $4,000 ridiculous heels, you will never be able to lace up my Chuck Taylors. You’re all worthless excuses for women – and you will never be able to touch me – and that is reality.” – AJ Lee to the cast of Total Divas, RAW, 8/26/2013

Runners Up:  CM Punk dumps Paul Bearer’s ashes to close RAW (#2), Dolph Ziggler cashes in (#3), The Wyatt Family debut (#4)

Most Improved Wrestler of the Year:  Brie Bella

Brie Bella (left) vs. Natalya (right)

Brie Bella (left) vs. Natalya (right)

When the Bella Twins left WWE – I was excited.  I thought they were bland personalities and mediocre wrestlers that offered nothing to the show.  Then they returned this year – and dare I say, I was actually excited to see Brie and Nikki.  They got scrappy with the Funkadactyls a few times and I had the same feelings – except this time around, they were better heels.  Then Nikki was injured and Brie went solo.  Throughout the summer, Brie’s in-ring improvements (and reported training with Daniel Bryan) were evident in her SummerSlam match against Natalya and her run as number one contender for the Diva’s Championship against AJ Lee.

Brie’s a markedly improved wrestler and is nearing the top of the current crop of Divas.  Should she maintain her level of training, we should see even better matches from Brie next year and possibly a run with the strap (a more meaningful one than her first).

Runners Up:  Seth Rollins (#2), Big E. Langston (#3), Aksana (#4)

Show of the Year:  Total Divas

Total Divas: (left to right) Nikki Bella, Naomi, Natalya, Cameron, Brie Bella

Total Divas: (left to right) Nikki Bella, Naomi, Natalya, Cameron, Brie Bella

WWE has a hit on their hands – E! Total Divas.  The scripted reality show gives fans a look behind the scenes of WWE and what road life is like for the Superstars and Divas.  It’s full of drama, “purple people eaters,” romance, and rivalry. The stories on Total Divas oftentimes work themselves onto regular, weekly programming, and I’d venture to say that on a consistent basis Total Divas offers edgier content (think Attitude era moments) and the action and excitement is better than what you’ll find on RAW and Smackdown!

Initially there was speculation that Total Divas was a vehicle for the Bella Twins, but as season one draws to a close (and knowing that season two has an order), it’s clear that while Brie and Nikki have benefited from the exposure, the other Divas (Natalya and the Funkadactyls) have shined just as bright, if not brighter.  Did I mention a surprise star was born:  Eva Marie and her hashtag #AllRedEverything.

Runners Up:  Post-WrestleMania RAW (#2), SummerSlam (#3), Payback (#4)

Feud of the Year:  Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan (left) stands over a fallen Randy Orton

Daniel Bryan (left) stands over a fallen Randy Orton

Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton began at SummerSlam when Triple H crossed Bryan and Orton cashed in his All-Stars Money in the Bank contract moments after Bryan defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship.  It was perfect set-up to make Daniel Bryan more of an underdog than he already is/was.  Why could the smaller guy – the “Yes” master – not just reign supreme over the WWE?  Why did The Authority need a new “face of the WWE?” In the name of what’s best for business, the fall’s most intense feud began and carried through October’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. The WWE Championship changed hands like a hot potato – but in the process, some of the year’s most amazing matches were born and Daniel Bryan’s popularity soared that much more.

Runners Up:  CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar (#2), CM Punk vs. The Undertaker (#3), AJ Lee vs. Kaitlyn (#4)

Match of the Year:

Street Fight:  Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton (RAW, June 24) – tie

Daniel Bryan makes Randy Orton tap out!

Daniel Bryan makes Randy Orton tap out!

Remember when Daniel Bryan made Randy Orton tap out during their epic street fight this summer?  Me too. It was one of the most intense, hard-hitting matches I can recall seeing in a number of years.  Both men left it all in the ring that night – but that cross-face with the kendo stick takes the cake.  It’s not often we see Randy Orton tap out, let alone in singles competition in the main event of RAW.  This was a huge deal and big push for the already over Daniel Bryan.  It solidified him as a singles star and main event player – and was a precursor to his two WWE Championship reigns and their intense feud.

“The Best vs. The Beast”: CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam, August 18) – tie

CM Punk applies the Anaconda Vice to Brock Lesnar

CM Punk applies the Anaconda Vice to Brock Lesnar

I’ve never been a fan of Brock Lesnar personally – but his in-ring work speaks for itself.  He’s one of the most violent and intense people I’ve ever seen compete in a WWE ring.  He’s had a number of memorable matches in his career (though, I hate to say it) against the likes of Triple H and John Cena, but when he came face to face with “The Best in the World” CM Punk – fans were treated to one hell of a no disqualification match.

Built on the feud between Paul Heyman and CM Punk, Lesnar maintained his enforcer status and for once – emerged with a victory.  Punk gave his all – and it just wasn’t enough to overcome a thrashing from “The Beast.” I’ve rarely ordered pay-per-views for just one encounter, but from the start, when this match was made (despite not being a Lesnar fan) I knew it was one I had to see.  This should be one of those encounters people talk about for years to come.

Runners Up:  Cody Rhodes vs. Randy Orton (RAW, Sept. 2 – #2), NXT Women’s Championship Final: Paige vs. Emma (#3), Tag Team Championship Match: The Shield vs. Rhodes (RAW, October 14 – #4)

Superstar of the Year:  Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan becomes the WWE Champion

Daniel Bryan becomes the WWE Champion

He began the year as a Tag Team Champion (with Kane), worked high profile programs against main event performers John Cena, Randy Orton, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and Stephanie McMahon, and has two credits as WWE Champion.  That’s not counting the insane crowd reactions, features on Total Divas, charity appearances, merchandising, or main events (pay-per-view, RAW, and Smackdown!).  Daniel Bryan was the true face of the WWE in 2013 and had a classic ascension through the ranks.  Given his size and indy background, this is even more significant provided Vince McMahon’s apprehension to “small” champions.

You could call it the “Year of the Beard” or you could simply say “Yes!” Regardless, when you do either, you’ll think of Daniel Bryan and it’d be hard to argue anybody else had a bigger year.

Runners Up:  John Cena (#2), Randy Orton (#3), CM Punk (#4)

There they are – your Best of WWE 2013 selections.  Agree or disagree?  Sound off in the comments section to offer your opinions.

WWE Night of Champions – predictions/results

Night of Champions

QUICK RESULTS:

The Prime Time Players won Tag Team Turmoil

Curtis Axel def. Kofi Kingston to retain the Intercontinental Championship

AJ Lee def. Natalya, Naomi, and Brie Bella to retain the Diva’s Championship

Rob Van Dam def. Alberto Del Rio by DQ; Del Rio retains the Championship

The Miz def. Fandango

Curtis Axel and Paul Heyman def. CM Punk

Dean Ambrose def. Dolph Ziggler to retain the US Championship

The Shield def. The Prime Time Players to retain the Tag Team Championships

Daniel Bryan def. Randy Orton to become the new WWE Champion

(my predictability score – on announced matches – 4.5/7 = 64%)

 

Tonight is the NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS – here are my predictions:

1. KICKOFF MATCH:  Tag Team Turmoil – No. 1 Contendership Match for the Tag Team Championships

The Primetime Players vs. The Usos vs. Tons of Funk vs. The Real Americans vs. 3MB

I can’t recall how long it’s been since the WWE had the tag team division looking so unpredictable.  That said, I’m surprised by the absence of the Wyatt Family and with all the recent mini-pushes a lot of these teams are getting – this is by far one of the hardest matches to call.  That said,  I see the No. 1 Contendership going to:

Predicted Winners:  The Prime Time Players

2.  WWE Tag Team Championship Match:  The Shield (c) vs. The Prime Time Players

Since Darren Young’s “outing” the Prime Time Players have been unstoppable and everyone has been questioning how Young’s revelation will effect his career.  People like Jim Ross have said it won’t – and the McMahon family has been supportive (on twitter).  But I say now it’s time for the WWE to put its money where its mouth is.  In order to do that – Darren Young must become a champion!

Additionally, The Shield is involved with all this McMahon family drama – the straps need to be dropped into the active fray – to allow other tag teams to shine.

Predicted Winners:  The Prime Time Players 

3. United States Championship Match: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler

This match has been weakly built over the last couple weeks – but that’s not to say it will be anything shy of amazing.  I just don’t see a title change happening here.  Ziggler brings nothing to the US Championship except a new face to associate with the title (should he win).  Should Ambrose keep his title, he will be affirmed as the top member of The Shield.

Predicted Winner:  Dean Ambrose 

4. CM Punk vs. Curtis Axel and Paul Heyman (Handicap Elimination Match)

Simply put – It’s not time for Punk to have his revenge.  Heyman has more tricks up his sleeve.

Predicted Winner(s):  Curtis Axel and Paul Heyman 

5.  World Heavyweight Championship Match:  Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Rob Van Dam

Since returning to WWE, Rob Van Dam has been on a roll.  Tonight, I expect to hear the thunder and the chant of “R-V-D!”

Predicted Winner:  Rob Van Dam

6.  Diva’s Championship Fatal Four Way: AJ Lee (c) vs. Brie Bella vs. Natalya vs. Naomi

You’d think with the mid-season finale of Total Divas airing tonight, alongside Night of Champions, that one of the cast members would be due up for a push.  I say not so fast – this is a big moment for AJ Lee.  She has been the focal point of the division – and the most prominent Diva in the WWE over the last two years.  This is her best title defense to date – and I can’t see her dropping the championship after running amok on commentary and delivering “Pipe Bombshells.” This is WWE’s chance to let AJ shine – and let her words be turned into actions.

Not only that, but this entire season, the “Divas” have been bickering with one another – so don’t expect the Total Divas-allegiance to last too long.

Predicted Winner:  AJ Lee 

7.  WWE Championship Match:  Randy Orton (c) vs. Daniel Bryan

For weeks, Daniel Bryan has been at the center of a one-sided controversy against the McMahon family.  I think it’s too soon for Bryan to come out on top – and I think a likely heel turn (#1,000) from The Big Show will see to that.

Predicted Winner:  Randy Orton