Welcome to the first, oldest and one of my favorite installments of the Bobby James Awards. This edition is a celebration of all things WWE – and the stars, matches and moments that made 2015 a standout year. WWE’s developmental territory, NXT, has continued its evolution into one of the most popular brands in all of professional wrestling – something you’ll definitely see reflected below.
Now, what’s the best part of the Bobby James Awards? There are no envelopes, just results. Let’s take a look…
The Bálor Award
In its inaugural year, The Bálor Award celebrates the best entrance in the WWE. NXT Champion, Finn Bálor made waves simply for coming to the ring. I can’t recall another wrestler (spare me Undertaker) with such an elaborate, engaging entrance. From “The Demon” to “Jack the Ripper” (NXT TakeOver: London), Bálor built anticipation for what he’s about to do between those ropes, which is no less exciting.
Runner Up: Asuka | 2014 Recipient: n/a
Newcomer of the Year
It’d be hard to argue that anyone has ever had a bigger first year on WWE’s main roster than Kevin Owens. Formerly, this award was known as “Rookie of the Year,” but I had a problem titling Kevin Owens a rookie, especially since he offered some “veteran advice” upon his arrival. When he came up from NXT, he was the reigning NXT Champion and defeated John Cena in his main-roster debut (though unsuccessfully challenged for the United States Championship)! Since then, he’s moved on to become the [former] Intercontinental Champion and into a feud with Dean Ambrose. The WWE Universe has is right when they scream “Fight Owens, fight!”
Runner Up: Charlotte Flair | 2014 Recipient: Paige
Comeback of the Year
The Dudley Boyz
Yes. You are reading this correctly. After many, many years spent away, The Dudley Boyz emerged from Dudleyville and are calling WWE home once more. Since their return, and the present success of The New Day, WWE’s tag division is as exciting as it’s been since The Attitude Era. The Dudleyz have had a hand in that. I think we can all agree it’s refreshing to see tables and 3Ds. Oh my brother, testify!
Runner Up: Alberto Del Rio | 2014 Recipient: Brock Lesnar
Non-Wrestling Personality of the Year
When celebrities come to the WWE, we fans oftentimes scoff at them. We wonder which of our favorites will be “jobbing” in order to create a new celebrity inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. Recently, celebrities have been saved for the Divas Division (remember Snooki & Trish Stratus def. LayCool at WrestleMania? Or Maria Menounos def. Beth Phoenix!?), but the “Divas Revolution” put a stop to that.
Over the summer, Stephen Amell, star of the hit TV series Arrow, debuted in a comic book style feud against Stardust (one of my favorite stars in all of wrestling, and the galaxy). Amell was surprising in his efforts, from jumping the barricade, to being convincingly victorious at SummerSlam alongside Neville. His athleticism was apparent – and I can only hope WWE brings him back sooner than later (after all, I need “Cody Rhodes” back, unless they’re planning to make a champion of Stardust).
Runner Up: Lana | 2014 Recipient: Paul Heyman
Most Improved Wrestler of the Year
Never before has a wrestler earned this particular award in consecutive years, but Nikki Bella’s historic title reign and constant evolution between the ropes makes her the first. I thought she’d improved tremendously last year, but then, as the torchbearer for the women’s division during the “Divas Revolution,” she was forced to evolve – and evolve she did. She’s become a respectable performer and deserving and convincing champion. Her ring awareness, power moves and surprising technical showcase (against Charlotte) was impressive.
Runner Up: Big E | 2014 Recipient: Nikki Bella
NXT Newcomer of the Year
Samoa Joe is a well-regarded world class competitor. His work and accomplishments speak for themselves. As such, he’d been a TNA staple for years – so seeing him pop-up in WWE’s NXT was surprising to say the least. Joe has endured tremendous success since his arrival, too. He’s moved up the ranks quickly – from feuding with Kevin Owens and winning the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic (with Finn Bálor) to challenging for the NXT Championship, Joe is certainly one to watch in the new year. He could debut on the main roster and be a top player, no problem.
Runner Up: Asuka | 2014 Recipient: n/a
NXT Tag Team of the Year
Perhaps I’ve a bit of bias for this category. I love contemporary references to classic eras, as well as the pairing of Aiden English and Simon Gotch. The Vaudevillains are an homage to a time when Vaudeville was one of the leading forms of entertainment in the United States (the 1930s). Known for it’s over-the-top style and physical comedy, English and Gotch are perfect. Winning the NXT Tag Team Championships was just icing on the cake. I really hope this act comes to the main roster in 2016!
Runner Up: Finn Bálor and Samoa Joe | 2014 Recipient: n/a
Valet of the Year
Lana continues her stronghold on this category. She emerged last year as one of the most important valets of the last decade – and this year, she’s cementing that legacy. She brought attention to her star (Rusev) before leaving his side and striking out on her own as a new woman (with Dolph Ziggler), albeit a short-lived transformation. Crowds cheered for the “Ravishing Russian” (“We want Lana!”) as got our first-look at her physicality (against Summer Rae). She ends the year back at Rusev’s side, poised to steal the show as a heel once more.
Runner Up: Summer Rae | 2014 Recipient: Lana
Moment of the Year
Women’s Iron Man Match
NXT Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks
NXT TakeOver: Respect (Oct. 7, 2015)
At NXT TakeOver: Respect, Bayley, the NXT Women’s Champion, squared off against her rival and WWE’s resident “Boss” in a rematch of epic proportions. Following their historic encounter at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, Bayley and Sasha not only had to deliver, but they had to do so in the main event slot, in the first-ever women’s Iron Man match with a 30-minute time limit. Those women earned every single second, that spot and this moment.
Bayley emerged victorious with a 3-2 score over Sasha Banks, but the accomplishment of their physical encounter proved that both women are capable of being main event talents – and that women’s wrestling in the WWE and the United States is about to change forever.
Show of the Year
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (Aug. 22, 2015)
The organic emergence of NXT with WWE’s audience has been impressive. It’s something professional wrestling historians will chronicle in just a matter of years as one of the most significant changes to the sport since The Attitude Era. At the forefront of that discussion should be NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, which featured some of the greatest wrestling in years. Sasha Banks and Bayley met in one of the greatest matches of all time for the NXT Women’s Championship – and Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens put on a suspenseful main event Ladder Match for the NXT Championship. This was WWE’s most important show of the year.
Other notable bouts included: Joshin Thunder Liger vs. Tyler Breeze, The Vaudevillains vs. Blake & Murphy and a Four-way encounter between Emma, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Dana Brooke.
The Pipebomb! Award
Little Baby Brother – Paige
RAW, Nov. 16, 2015
The “Pipebomb!” Award is named in reference to C.M. Punk’s hijacking of Monday Night RAW in 2011. It’s a celebration of words that blur the line between reality and kayfabe. Is there truth behind what you just heard? For two years, former WWE Diva AJ Lee was honored for her targeted at The Bella Twins and the depressed state of women’s wrestling. This year though, there was one line that landed controversially.
During the Divas Championship contract signing that closed Monday Night RAW, moments after Charlotte Flair finished declaring the “fight” in her lineage, Paige countered:
You know what Charlotte, you’re wrong sweetheart, ‘cause your little baby brother – he didn’t have much fight in him, did he?
One simple question ignited a firestorm. The reference? To Charlotte’s brother Reid Flair, who died in 2013 from a combined overdose of heroin and prescription drugs.
Runner Up: Veteran Advice – Kevin Owens | 2014 Recipient: Bella Bombshell – AJ Lee
NXT Diva of the Year
“The Boss” Sasha Banks is arguably the NXT Superstar of the year, but undoubtedly the NXT Diva of the Year. From her title win against Charlotte in February to her historic encounters with Bayley in August and October at NXT TakeOver events, Sasha has been the gold-standard in NXT. Combine her accomplishments with her main roster debut, and her submission victory over Nikki Bella in a champion vs. champion match and you’ll find a winning combination – and likely the breakout star of 2016.
Runner Up: Bayley | 2014 Recipient: Charlotte Flair
NXT Superstar of the Year
From his debut at the end of 2014 to his introduction of “The Demon” and ultimate capture of the NXT Championship, Finn Bálor has been one of the most exciting stars in all of the WWE. His ring work is superior to his main roster counterparts and his stature makes him look like an underdog champion against the likes of Kevin Owens, Apollo Crews and Samoa Joe.
Despite producing incredible encounters and winning the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic with Samoa Joe, my favorite Bálor moment was seeing him win the NXT Championship from Kevin Owens at Beast in the East in Tokyo, Japan.
Runner Up: Sasha Banks | 2014 Recipient: Sami Zayn
Tag Team of the Year
Kidd & Cesaro with Natalya
You were probably expecting The New Day right? Wrong. The New Day has been interesting – and they’ve improved greatly this year, but my heart (no pun intended) lies with Kidd & Cesaro with Natalya. All three competitors are worthy opponents in the ring – some of the most exciting to watch – and incredibly under-valued by WWE creative. But for a brief while, Kidd & Cesaro reigned over WWE as the Tag Team Champions – and for a moment, it looked as if Natalya might get involved and make history every time she took away her husband’s belt!
They retained their titles at the WrestleMania 31 pre-show in a Fatal 4-Way tag match and were poised for a great rivalry against The New Day, but untimely injuries have put the team on hiatus.
Runner Up: The New Day | 2014 Recipient: The Rhodes Brothers
Feud of the Year
John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens brought his level of competition to WWE’s poster boy John Cena. Cena actually added offense to counteract the force known as Kevin Owens. Their encounters were physical and a title was on the line. Owens def. Cena in his main roster debut and Cena balanced the score before emerging victorious. Throughout the process though, the United States Championship was elevated in status and prestige, and Kevin Owens came out a star, poised to claim and reign over the WWE as the Intercontinental Champion.
The feud itself featured animosity and physicality that had been missing for a few years in John Cena’s career – and it legitimately looked as if Owens was about to take the reigns and become the new face of the WWE. He was a convincing and credible foe for Cena.
Runner Up: Sasha Banks | 2014 Recipient: Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
John Cena (43.75%)
Can I say I’m surprised, yet not surprised? John Cena is a staple, and has been for over a decade. Honestly though, with the “We want Sasha chants” and “Cesaro Section” signs, I had someone else pegged as the fan-favorite. Perhaps the bigger surprise is the runner-up, but maybe she shouldn’t be, considering her achievements this year.
Runner Up: Nikki Bella (25%) | 2014 Recipient: n/a
Match of the Year:
NXT Women’s Championship
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bayley
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (Aug. 22, 2015)
There was indeed a Divas Revolution this year – but it didn’t happen on the main roster so much as it did in NXT. The match Sasha Banks and Bayley had in Brooklyn was the epitome of what the revolution was supposed to look like. These women showcased their best – and some of the most daring action I’ve ever seen from women in a WWE ring. They brought attention to, and elevated, the NXT Women’s Division to be one of the most important in the entire company – and arguably professional wrestling.
I still can’t forget that corner spot from Bayley to Sasha – or the moment Bayley overcame the odds to achieve her dream. This match made me proud to be a fan – and optimistic for the future of women’s wrestling. That’s why I’ve deemed it the first match featuring lady wrestlers to claim my Match of the Year spot.
Runner Up: Finn Bálor vs. Kevin Owens (Beast in the East, Jul. 4) | 2014 Recipient: Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro (NXT Arrival)
Diva of the Year
Nikki Bella has officially made a believer out of me. Four years ago, I wrote her off – happy to see The Bella Twins leave WWE. I rolled my eyes when they returned – and scoffed at the notion of Nikki challenging AJ Lee for the Divas Championship. When she defeated AJ at the end of 2014, I wondered if WWE would allow her to have a record-breaking title reign. I hoped they would not.
Sure, I’d fallen for Nikki Bella’s personality thanks to Total Divas before she really reentered the Divas Division, but I still didn’t really buy her as a competitor, though I did recognize her improvements. Then, when Stephanie McMahon announced the “Divas Revolution,” I couldn’t help but notice how much better Nikki was getting. She became a viable champion – a worthy competitor in just a matter of months. Then, she broke AJ Lee’s record – and despite dreading and fearing it a short while before, I bought it. She earned it.
Nikki Bella reigned over the WWE’s women’s division in one of its brightest years since Trish, Lita and Mickie traded the title.
Runner Up: Paige | 2014 Recipient: AJ Lee
Superstar of the Year
It’s an incredible feat when a wrestler can become a two-time Superstar of the Year. It’s never been consecutively done before in the history of the Bobby James Awards – until now. Seth Rollins did it all. He put on a stellar match against Randy Orton at WrestleMania 31. He cashed in Money in the Bank the same night to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. He feuded with and defeated John Cena (becoming the bearer of the WWE World Heavyweight and US Titles) – and he was the face of the company. An untimely injury at a house-show has him sidelined, but his accomplishments and in-ring performance still ensure he takes top honors for 2015.
Runner Up: Roman Reigns and John Cena | 2014 Recipient: Seth Rollins
What are your thoughts on my picks? Agree or disagree? Let me know, I’m interested to hear from you. If you agree, then share it with the world 🙂