We are just finishing up the home stretch of 2018. Ok, so this is like 20 days late and probably one hundred dollars short, but nonetheless – with the last pay per view of the year in our rearview (looking at you TLC) it seems like a good enough time to start combing through the 2018 wrestling awards. To be fully transparent, this is a tough year to review. For as many ups as WWE has seen – Seth’s in ring work, Daniel Bryan’s heel turn, Becky Lynch’s ascension to near Stone Cold status – there have been a number of downs – the status of Raw, the disappearance of the Universal title, Roman Reigns leukemia, Shinsuke Nakamura’s TV time – that have dragged the WWE down. This may be one of the more somber awards articles in recent memory. Or not, I don’t know. Maybe reminiscing on some of the good things that happened in 2018 will brighten your wrestling day.
Return of the Year
It’s Daniel Bryan. Point. Blank. Period. Before I go any further let’s note two things. Lashley was never even in contention for this spot, he may as well have not even returned. Second, Drew McIntyre may have had this on lock if it were not for a) uncertainty over Drew’s eligibility given he was in NXT for a while before heading to Raw b) Daniel Bryan’s return in general c) Daniel Bryan’s late 2018 heel turn. Cus let’s be honest, many reviewers were ramping up to dump Daniel Bryan into the biggest disappointment section of their 2018 end of year lists. But holy crap, “The New Daniel Bryan” has been a revelation. I remember saying not long before or after his return that Bryan would be a forever face in WWE. I am so glad that I was so wrong. This run is the second best of his WWE career only trailing behind the Yes Revolution story. His ring work as always remains impeccable and his mic work is transcendent as a heel.
More of the “new” Daniel Bryan in 2019 please. But in the meantime, go back and watch Bryan announce his return.
Honorable Mentions: Drew McIntyre. Rey Mysterio
Likely to Win in 2019: Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn
Feud/Story of the Year
Gargano vs Ciampa.
I almost forgot about this feud due to the immensely fantastic work that Becky Lynch has been doing these past few months. However, Becky does not yet have one true rival coming out of her destruction of the universe on Twitter. But if we look at matches, promos, story, etc., this DIY feud has been nothing short of an absolute epic. I can’t even begin to dissect all of the little nuances and twists and turns to this story over the course of 2018. What I can say is, when the DVD is made to celebrate this feud, sign me up to be the first to watch.
This is made even better in the latter stages of 2018 as there seems to be seeds being planted for a “dark” DIY reunion in 2019. Rivals, turned friends, turned bitter enemies, turned frenemies? This feud is also a reminder that some of the best work in WWE is happening in NXT.
Honorable Mentions: Becky Lynch vs the Universe,
Likely to Win in 2019: Becky Lynch vs someone. Lynch is primed to take her late 2018 breakout into 2019 and run an epic feud with Rousey and/or Charlotte Flair.
Gimmick Match of the Year
This may sound prisoner of the moment, but I am going to have to go with Becky vs Asuka vs Charlotte in a TLC match at the eponymous pay per view event.
This match stands out because of the excellence of all three women in the ring. It also stands out because of the mic work by Becky in the build to this match. Once you add in the Ronda interference at the end stoking the fire towards what appears to be a Wrestlemania Triple Threat, this match had everything needed to make it a classic.
This match main evented TLC and deserved the moment 100%.
It’s interesting to note that in one of the toughest times in WWE history for criticism of the product they chose to run a women’s triple threat TLC match as the main event of a very important ppv for the E. Oh, and of course this was match of the night with AJ vs Bryan coming a close second.
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Bryan vs Brock Lesnar (Survivor Series)
Likely to Win in 2019: Money in The Bank – it is due to bounce back from some lackluster matches in the past few years.
The Universal Title, Roman Reigns’ Leukemia, and Brock Lesnar.
Not to be insensitive, but these three things are inextricably linked.
WWE was primed to have Roman Reigns dethrone Lesnar at Wrestlemania in 2018. Rather than go through with the most obvious and best solution WWE foolishly decided to let Lesnar’s title run continue until SummerSlam. After over 400 days with the title, most people no longer cared about Lesnar, the Universal championship or Reigns proposed cathartic victory over the beast. Then, just two months after freeing the Universal Championship from Lesnar’s uncaring hands, Roman Reigns came out on Monday Night Raw, announced he had leukemia and was going to be gone, indefinitely.
So after a year of the title not really being around, and a delayed coronation for Reigns, and life getting in the way, WWE decided to slap the Universal Title back on Brock.
The Universal Championship debuted in 2016. In the two and almost a half years since, out of a total of 850 plus days, the title has sat on the shoulders of a part time wrestler for 70% of its existence. This is between Brock’s two reigns and Goldberg’s reign.
WWE, why are fans supposed to care about this belt?
Fans were ready to move beyond Brock, the Reigns chase and the absentee title, but here we are at the end of 2018 and essentially nothing of import has happened with the championship. Brock is champion once again, Roman is off fighting for his life and Raw is left without a true main event championship that is on television week in and week out. This remains a MAJOR disappointment.
Dishonorable Mentions: Lashley’s return (but this was expected), Inconsistent focus on Tag Teams, Raw, NXT Call Ups
Likely to Win in 2019: Next year same as the first – aka Brock Lesnar if they wait later that Mania to take the Universal title off of Brock.
Best Face/Heel Turn
I am going to have to go out on a limb here and score this as a tie between Becky Lynch and Daniel Bryan. Both performers are doing the best work on the mic in their careers. Bryan’s “New Daniel Bryan” arc and approach is amazing and people’s willingness to go along with and boo him is a tremendous testament to Daniel and his excellence at all facets of pro wrestling. It’s interesting to wonder where Bryan goes next with this particular run, but the first month seems to be an indicator of more greatness to come.
Then there’s Becky Lynch. If you remember, I advocated in my last article that Becky ought to be the one to take the Roman Reigns “face of the company” spot in his absence. She has been set loose on the WWE Universe and has been killing it. Ring work? Check. Mic work? Double Check. Socials? Every damn check in the entire freaking world. Becky was the sympathetic (and often pathetic) member of the NXT Four Horsewomen for a lot of her run. She was betrayed more than once and was in danger of falling out of the spotlight altogether. Then she turned heel. Like Bryan, this version of Becky has also been a revelation. She is killing it in every way that you can imagine. Nevermind that fans continued to cheer her despite her decidedly heel actions, Becky’s turn has revitalized her career, the Smackdown Women’s division, and in fact the entire WWE.
Remember the theory about the fall being a time for WWE to essentially throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks (it usually manifests as a first time or unexpected champion) that has taken the form of two phenomenal turns, two unexpected but deserved title runs and a ton of fan intrigue to boot. These two are the shining bright spots in what has been an otherwise dismal fall for WWE.
You may say it’s a cop out, but I am going with a tie here. (If only to force my hand in not giving a tie for Superstar of the Year.)
Honorable Mentions: Dean Ambrose
Likely to Win in 2019: Daniel Bryan/AJ Styles. There is going to be a moment post-SummerSlam where Daniel Bryan returns to his face alignment or AJ Styles reverts to a heel and either option will be astounding.
Biggest Non-WWE Development/Story
Two words: ALL IN
Everyone said it could not be done, well particularly wrestling writer Dave Meltzer, but you get the idea. The thought was that no non-WWE promotion was capable of filling a 10,000 seat arena for a wrestling show. Cody Rhodes (who also won this award last year) and the Young Bucks Bucks of Youth- Matt and Nick Jackson proved Meltzer and everyone else wrong.
They planned a show, they sold out in minutes, they pulled off a pretty great show and now have the entire wrestling world buzzing about what is next for these three and the rest of the Bullet Club.
Every December/January wrestling fans get excited at the prospect of some (or all) of the Bullet Club members migrating to WWE and giving us dream matchups and scenarios. Every year, save AJ Styles’ debut and Finn Balor’s move, this has amounted to nothing more than talk.
This year, with everyone’s contracts expiring at basically the same time, the discussions are hotter than ever. There is one catch however. There is a question looming over all of this that needs to be asked. Why would these guys to move to WWE coming off of the success of All In, the continued success of Being the Elite and other BC related ventures? With rumors swirling of a Jim Ross, BC, Chris Jericho backed promotion it’s just as possible that these guys start their own territory as anything else.
That fact alone – that the guys who pulled off All In might launch their own promotion – makes this the most interesting Non-WWE story of 2018.
Will the Bullet Club come to WWE?
Will they launch a new promotion?
Will they stage All In 2?
Find out next time on Dragonball Z!
Honorable Mentions: Ummm, I’m not exactly sure. TNA has a TV deal on some weird hidden corner of the television world. Lucha Underground is in legal turmoil. NJPW has not yet established a concrete foothold in the US.
Likely to Win in 2019:AEW. They have Chris Jericho. They have Neville. They have the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes. They likely have Kenny Omega. They might end up with Goldberg interestingly enough. Basically, Until or if something else happens, this award will be Cody and friends’ to lose for at least another year or two. This is regardless of whether they are a success, failure or just another wrestling promotion mired in mediocrity.
PPV of the Year
*Insert shrug emoji*
I’m not sure that any of WWE’s ppvs stand head and shoulder over the rest this year. In my mind, the two shows that come to mind are SummerSlam and Survivor Series. I honestly don’t have an answer for this.
Royal Rumble had the promise of Asuka and Nakamura both winning the women’s and men’s Rumbles respectively.
SummerSlam had the Becky Lynch turn.
Survivor Series had Brock vs Bryan.
TLC had the Charlotte/Asuka/Lynch triple threat TLC match.
It’s difficult to answer this when most of the shows only have one or two memorable moments.
Likely to Win in 2019: Who knows? How about we make ppvs great again.
NXT Call-up of the Year
Drew McIntyre. He’s had the most impact of any of the NXT guys or gals called up in 2018. He was involved in a program with two of the absolute best workers in Seth and Ziggler. He also seems poised to enter the main event scene during 2019.
Here’s hoping he gets to work the full gamut of the main event guys on Raw. Seth. Finn. Dean. Strowman. Drew has shown that he is a lot more than his first disappointing WWE run. Hopefully they build on that in 2019.
Honorable Mentions: Sanity? Generally WWE has been failing its call ups. This is rough.
Likely to Win in 2019:EC3.
Tag Match of the Year
New Day vs The Bar, Smackdown Live! August 7 2018. (These two teams can fight forever).
Singles Match of the Year
Becky Lynch vs Charlotte Flair. Last Woman Standing. WWE Evolution.
Wrestler of the Year
I foolishly proclaimed somewhere around August/September that Seth Rollins was a lock for the 2018 wrestler of year award and it would take basically an act of God for anyone else to even warrant consideration. How about two acts of God? Looking at you Daniel Bryan and Becky Lynch. This is a very tough decision so we’re going to handle this elimination style.
Seth Rollins had 2018 on lock. If WWE was the NFL then your midseason MVP for WWE was Seth Rollins by 200 country miles. There was no one in his rearview as we embarked on the late summer into fall run. Seth was having matches that were consistently the best on any show he was booked on. His series of matches with Ziggler were fun (while also reminding the WWE Universe how good Ziggy is).
More than that, any wrestler that faced Seth this year had their best match of the year against Seth. While WWE wasted the Universal Championship for another six months, Seth made every effort to make the Intercontinental title THE title on Raw.
If 2018 ended in August Seth Rollins would have walked home with this award and be halfway to securing the 2019 award due to how far he was lapping the field at that point. The latter half of 2018 provided some heavy competition however.
“New Daniel Bryan” as already discussed in this article is wonderful. His low blow to win the WWE championship from AJ Styles was a jolt to the system.
His mic work and match psychology since the turn has been nothing short of masterful. I love how he has taken long known facts about him, his life, his personal experience and altered the way he talks about them just slightly and makes those things evidence of his heeldom. This run has reminded me that Daniel Bryan literally learned professional wrestling at the feet of Shawn Michaels.
Unfortunately for Daniel Bryan he didn’t wrestle until April of 2018. He missed three months of competition. Daniel Bryan also only just recently began his new run as a heel – basically two months after Becky did. Add in that WWE squandered a whole lot of potential with a Bryan vs Miz feud that the entire universe was salivating over and the wasted Big Cass feud and Bryan’s consideration takes some fairly heavy blows.
Becky Lynch’s rise in the post-SummerSlam doldrums of WWE’s calendar spurred me to declare that the definitive main event of Wrestlemania should be Becky vs Charlotte and/or Rousey. And it was purely because of Becky. Becky’s turn, her matches with Charlotte and then Charlotte and Asuka, her Twitter wars with everyone. Becky has dominated WWE for the better part of five months.
Great matches? Check!
Great promos? Check!
Meaningful feuds? Check!
An obvious direction? Check!
Social media buzz? Check!
Becky single-handedly came in in the fall of 2018 and stole Seth Rollins spot as Superstar of the Year. She even bodied Seth on Twitter along the way.
Becky’s name came up in three or four separate awards on this list. And won. If that doesn’t make you superstar of the year, then I don’t know what does.
Here’s to bigger and better things for Becks in 2019.
Honorable Mentions: Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles
Biggest Wish for 2019
Wrap it up
2018 definitely had its share of ups and downs for the wrestling world. At the end of the day as wrestling fans we have to remind ourselves that it’s somewhat amazing that we even get to watch as much wrestling as we do in 2019. WWE especially continued to fight for professional wrestling to gain mainstream appeal and with Smackdown’s move to Fox looming in the fall of this year, we all inch ever closer to that ideal.
With WWE, AEW, NJPW, ROH and more continuing to grow, wrestling seems to be in good hands. That’s before you even mention NXT and NXT UK. Here’s to another year of wrestling.