Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Pro Wrestling Truth Awards - Part 1: WWE Year In Review

When 2015 began, WWE was coming off one of it's most controversial and rocky years yet in the form of 2014. A year that saw the man that many saw as the company's lost hope, CM Punk, make his departure and a year that saw the also beloved Daniel Bryan suffer a heartbreaking injury immediately after the biggest moment of his career. In a position to deliver, WWE put the title on the Beast Incarnate Brock Lesnar and he more than delivered. To top that off, Daniel Bryan made his return at the Royal Rumble. Between those two, we got a number of fresh, outstanding match ups in the first quarter of the year. We also got negatives, though, as yet again, the Royal Rumble match was clouded in controversy with Roman Reigns getting booed out of the building with his win. Even with The Rock coming out to the ring to try to get his cousin a cheap pop. The hostile enviroment continued on the Road to WrestleMania and ultimately at the show itself as Reigns was shaken to the core by a crowd that just wasn't sold on him whatsoever. In a position where you have to deliver, Reigns did. He slugged it out with Lesnar and put up one hell of a fight. The crowd just wasn't having it however, and Seth Rollins took advantage of two beaten down man and lit the crowd ablaze as he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract. Rollins' reign as champion continued through the year as he skid past challengers like Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Sting in some form or fashion. As interesting as that may sound, the most memorable thing from the mid-year came in the form of John Cena's US Title reign. His open challenges were the highlight of Raw weekly which says something about how mediocre the rest of the product was, but it also showed us how truly underrated of a competitor John Cena is by many fans worldwide.

By the time the fall rolled around, it felt like there was going to be no ultimate story told in this calendar year. The product got stale and barely watchable. Kevin Owens & Cesaro kept things interesting with their respective strengths being put on display weekly, but as a whole, there was not anything remotely interesting. Then, WWE decided to pull the trigger and give Roman Reigns the title on the December 10th episode of Raw. It felt like it came out of nowhere, but in the moment I realized how perfect of an ending to the year this was. It wasn't quite the fairytale story that came from storylines not going over as they were originally planned with Daniel Bryan last year, although it certainly came close.

A hot, promising start. A dull, uneventful middle. An exciting finish. That's this year in a nutshell however it's time to go inside of that shell and pick out the best moments, matches, & competitors from 2015 in WWE.

Top 10 WWE Stars of the Year

1) John Cena - 194 points

Despite missing two months of action at the end of the year, John Cena still somehow managed to scoop up the WWE Wrestler of the Year award. His US Title reign helped him tremendously as he gained points for all the defenses plus the high quality matches that his open challenge produced week after week. This is the first time Cena has won this award in the Pro Wrestling Truth awards since 2007 and it really says something about how he's just gotten better as time has went on. 2015 will undoubtedly be looked back on as one of his best years yet. He delivered great match after great match, elevated one young talent after another, brought prestige back to the United States Championship, and proved himself to be an all time great in the world of pro wrestling. Many doubters and nay sayer were won over this year as John's talent that has often been questioned was put on full display and we saw why Cena has been the top dog in WWE for so many years. I look forward to what Big Match John will do in 2016!

Previous rankings: #2 in 2014, #2 in 2013, #4 in 2012, #2 in 2011

Must see matches of the year:

vs. Kevin Owens - Elimination Chamber - ****1/2

vs. Cesaro - Raw - 6/29/15 - ****1/2

vs. Seth Rollins - Raw - 7/27/15 - ****

2) Seth Rollins - 168 points

Many people viewed Seth Rollins as the guy from The Shield who would be least likely to succeed however this year, Seth absolutely crushed these pre-conceived opinions by taking the biggest championship in the game on the biggest stage of the year at WrestleMania 30. Rollins cashed in his Money in The Bank briefcase on Brock Lesnar & Roman Reigns and became the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. This put Rollins on the bad side of most fans as he became The Authority's number one guy. They protected him at all costs and this made for a somewhat lackluster reign as champion. But the truth is, Rollins was one of the most consistent and fun to watch performers throughout the year and his reign was never even stopped as he got injured and was forced to relinquish the belt. Rollins earned victories over Brock Lesnar, Sting, John Cena, among others to retain the championship that he made his. Not to mention becoming a double champion by defeating John Cena to win the United States Title and retain the WWE Championship. It was a landmark year for the former ROH World Champion who has now staked his name into the history books of WWE forever.

Previous rankings: #4 in 2014, #7 in 2013

Must see matches of the year:

vs. Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena - Royal Rumble - ****1/2

vs. Dean Ambrose - Raw - 5/4/15 - ****1/2

vs. John Cena - SummerSlam - ****

3) Kevin Owens - 168 points

Big Kev stomped into the WWE last December and proceeded to head into 2015 and turn the company on it's head. He won the NXT Championship, debuted on the main roster & defeated John Cena in his debut PPV match, and then won the Intercontinental Championship months later. The former Kevin Steen is the same one of a kind talent that ROH & PWG fans have loved since 2007 and he is clearly taking full advantage of the opportunity he's gotten to compete on the big stage that is WWE. With everything that he's accomplished in his first year of action in the fed, the sky looks to be the limit for what he can achieve in 2016 and beyond.

Must see matches of the year:

vs. John Cena - Elimination Chamber - ****1/2

vs. Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler - Raw - 10/26/15 - ****1/2

4) Roman Reigns - 142 points

Roman Reigns had one rocky road this year, but it was ultimately a success. He went from getting booed out the building when he won the Royal Rumble to getting a massive ovation when he defeated Sheamus to become the WWE Champion in the same building that give him one of the most hostile receptions in recent memory. 2015 saw Roman Reigns grow tremendously despite being forced into situations he clearly wasn't ready for yet as a performer. All along the way he still managed to deliver a number of great matches even with the horrendous booking. It was painful to watch at times and the product often suffered from it for that very reason, but in December when he dethroned Sheamus, it felt like the perfect story and the perfect end to the year for Roman. He's heading into 2016 as the WWE Champion and WrestleMania season is right around the corner. The Roman Empire looks to just be getting started.

Previous rankings: #8 in 2014, #7 in 2013

Must-see matches of the year:

vs. Daniel Bryan - Fast Lane

vs. Kevin Owens vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler - Raw - 10/26/15 - ****1/2

vs. Sheamus - Raw - 12/12/15 - ****1/4

5) Dean Ambrose - 126 points

It could be said that the Lunatic Fringe took a backseat this year as both of his Shield brethren, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, reached major singles achievements in the form of winning the WWE Championship. Something that Ambrose has been unable to do since 2014 despite several attempts. Now, does that mean that Dean wasn't as vital of a part of WWE programming as Reigns & Rollins? No, it doesn't because Ambrose actually had just as good or better of a year than those two when it comes to match quality and popularity. From his tag team battles alongside Roman Reigns to his MOTY candidate with Seth Rollins to his recent streak of hot TV matches since entering the IC Title picture and winning the belt, Ambrose has been delivering all over the place. So, 2015 wasn't a bad year by any means. However, I feel like it won't be long before we see something snap in Ambrose and he goes after that WWE Championship with reckless abandon.

Previous rankings: #5 in 2014, #9 in 2013

Must-see matches of the year:

w/ Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins & Luke Harper - Smackdown - 4/24/15 - ****

vs. Seth Rollins - Raw - 5/4/15 - ****1/2

vs. Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler - Smackdown - 12/22/15 - ***3/4

6) Cesaro - 114 points

It was another rollercoaster ride of a year for Cesaro. He went up and down the card. His booking was so sporatic that even the most diehard fan could get thrown off by it. One thing that never changed, despite all that, was the Swiss Superman's ability to tear the roof off of any arena he stepped into. He stole the hearts of the WWE Universe on multiple occassions. Whether it be his successful tag team with Tyson Kidd that began the year or his reignited singles run that saw him main event Raw against John Cena, Cesaro was at the top of his game in 2015. Regardless of how uninterested I became in WWE's product, I could always count on a few people to deliver a match worth tuning in for and Cesaro was one of those guys. The injury list mounted up this year and right along with Seth Rollins, Cesaro was put on the shelf in November with a torn rotater cuff. The wait is going to suck, but I have no doubt that Cesaro will be back killing it in no time, even if WWE never rewards him for it.

Previous rankings: #8 in 2014, #10 in 2013

Must-see matches of the year:

vs. John Cena - Raw - 6/22 - ****1/4

vs. John Cena - Raw - 6/29 - ****1/2

vs. Kevin Owens vs. Rusev - Raw - 7/13 - ****1/4

7) Dolph Ziggler - 92 points

In my piece about Cesaro, I mentioned people that I could always count on to deliver even when WWE's product was souring. Dolph Ziggler was another one of those guys. He's been one of those guys for almost 5 years now and he continued the trend of being a workhorse this year by rarely failing to light up the crowd. Although he was involved in a number of completely idiotic storylines such as the Rusev/Lana saga, Ziggler's in ring work more than made up for it as he had great matches early in the year against Daniel Bryan and closed the year out tearing things up with Dean Ambrose & Kevin Owens in the mid-card. Ziggler has yet to be able to reach the top tier however just as in years past, he was a vital part of the WWE roster.

Previous rankings: #4 in 2014, #6 in 2013

Must-see matches of the year:

vs. Daniel Bryan - Raw - 3/30/15 - ****

vs. Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio - Raw - 10/26/15 - ****1/2

vs. Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose - Smackdown - 12/22/15 - ***3/4

8) Sheamus - 73 points

Sheamus spent much of 2014 out with an injury so he made his full on return this year. It was a slowburn, but by the time the summer rolled around Sheamus was back into title contention by winning the Money in the Bank briefcase. Early in the year, he played the bully and played a part in the re-injuring of Daniel Bryan. He took this momentum towards the MITB victory however things seemed to stall from there. Until November, that is. At the Survivor Series PPV, Sheamus took advantage of an exhausted Roman Reigns and cashed in his briefcase successfully to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. This was Sheamus' first world title since 2012. His reign was cut short by Roman Reigns in December, but I think that is just going to push Sheamus into that next gear as we head into 2016.

9) Sasha Banks - 70 points

No woman has made an impact in WWE in as quick as Sasha Banks has. The Boss herself was a massive part of what made NXT so special in 2015. Her reign as the NXT Women's Champion is one of the best title reigns in WWE in recent memory. She had amazing matches with every person she stepped foot in the ring with. Many of which top most people's match of the year lists. On top of outstanding matches, Banks made history by competing in the first ever women's Iron Man Match with Bayley which not only wrote her name in the history books, but also left people gasping just like all of her other title matches during the year. She made her debut on the main roster in July and while she hasn't been positioned in a spot on the card to succeed, it's always a treat to see her on television wherever she may pop up. Crowds chant "We Want Sasha" on a regular basis during Divas matches which could be seen as disrespectful however it also shows the starpower she has created for herself. One can only hope that WWE will put her at the forefront of the main roster Divas division in the new year because she has the ability to do great things as we've already seen from her time in NXT.

10) Brock Lesnar - 67 points

The man I named as WWE Superstar of the Year now rounds out the Top 10 list. It's going to be hard for Brock to reach #1 again now that I've adopted a points system and his schedule plays against him in that aspect. Despite that, his few appearances per year will likely always splurge him into this list in some or fashion because the Beast Incarnate always delivers. Brock came into 2015 as hot as can be. This led to phenomenal matches with John Cena, Seth Rollins, & Roman Reigns over the WWE Championship. The summer saw Lesnar reignite his feud with The Undertaker and come out on top yet again in a brutal Hell In A Cell Match in October. With 2015 ending on such a positive note, it's going to be quite interesting to see what Brock gets himself into in 2016!

Top 10 WWE PPV Matches of the Year

Compiled by Tom (@Horse_bot3000)

1) Brock Lesnar (c) vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins - WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match - Royal Rumble

2) John Cena vs. Kevin Owens - Elimination Chamber

3) Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker - Hell In A Cell Match - Hell In A Cell

4) Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan - Fast Lane

5) Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose - Money in the Bank

6) Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns - WrestleMania 30

7) Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro - SummerSlam

8) John Cena vs. Kevin Owens - Money in the Bank

9) Bad News Barrett vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust vs. R-Truth vs. Luke Harper - Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship - WrestleMania 31

10) The New Day vs. The Usos vs. The Lucha Dragons - Ladder Match for the WWE Tag Team Titles - TLC

Top 15 TV Matches of the Year
Compiled by Ethan

1) Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio - Raw - 10/26 - ****1/2

2) John Cena vs. Cesaro - Raw - 7/6 - ****1/2

3) Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose - Raw - 5/4 - ****1/2

4) Sheamus (c) vs. Roman Reigns - WWE Title Match - Raw - 12/12 - ****1/4

5) John Cena vs. Cesaro - Raw - 6/29 - ****1/4

6) Rusev vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens - Raw - 7/13 - ****1/4

7) Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, & Braun Strowman vs. The Dudleys, Rhyno, & Tommy Dreamer - Extreme Rules - Raw - 12/14 - ****

8) John Cena vs. Seth Rollins - Raw - 7/27 - ****

9) Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler - Raw - 3/30 - ****

10) Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro - Raw - 11/16 - ****

11) Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, & Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, & Sheamus - Raw - 8/3 - ****

12) Seth Rollins vs. Neville - Raw - 8/3 - ****

13) Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins - Raw - 2/2 - ****

14) John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose - Raw - 3/30 - ***3/4

15) Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, & Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins, Big Show, & Kane - Smackdown - 1/15 - ***3/4


NXT has been making waves since 2013 when it was revamped and saw an array of new stars arrive such as Sami Zayn and Paige. It has only grown since then and I think it's safe to say that 2015 was it's biggest year yet. Kevin Owens made his impact known before graduating to the main roster. Sasha Banks & Bayley redefined women's wrestling in the WWE. Finn Balor, the former Prince Devitt, arrived and became NXT Champion. Jushin "Thunder" Liger made his first ever appearance under the WWE banner to compete in a match against Tyler Breeze. And that's just for starters! The year also saw former japanese star, Kana, debut under her new ring name, Asuka and Uhaa Nation become Apollo Crews. Worlds collided as you can tell based off the names mentioned alone. Who would have thought a legend like Jushin Liger who still competes for NJPW would make a random WWE appearance? Who would have expected the debut of former TNA World Champion Samoa Joe under the name that made him famous? Not to mention the arrivals of James Storm, Johnny Gargano, & Tommaso Ciampa! It was absolutely crazy to watch unfold and is the perfect example of why wrestling is in such a special place right now. Looking back at all these epic moments makes me wonder what on earth we will see in 2016 from NXT! If they're planning to top this year, they have quite the task!

Top 10 NXT Matches of the Year
Compiled by Tom

1) Sasha Banks vs. Bayley - NXT Women's Championship - NXT Takeover: Brooklyn

2) Finn Balor vs. Neville - NXT Takeover: Rival

3) Sasha Banks vs. Bayley - 30 Minute Iron Man Match for the NXT Women's Championship - NXT Takeover: Respect

4) Finn Balor (c) vs. Samoa Joe - NXT Championship Match - NXT Takeover: London

5) Finn Balor (c) vs. Kevin Owens - Ladder Match for the NXT Championship - NXT Takeover: Brooklyn

6) Sasha Banks (c) vs. Becky Lynch - NXT Women's Championship Match - NXT Takeover: Unstoppable

7) Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens - NXT Championship Match - NXT Takeover: Rival

8) Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley - NXT Women's Championship Match - NXT Takeover: Rival

9) Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn - NXT Championship Match - NXT Takeover: Unstoppable

10) Finn Balor vs. Tyler Breeze - NXT Takeover: Unstoppable

Heading into 2016, Roman Reigns is our champion, Kevin Owens & Dean Ambrose are embroiled in the best feud going currently, John Cena is back and vying for the US Title, and Brock Lesnar's return is imminent. The Road to WrestleMania is right around the corner and I'm truly excited to see what WWE has planned. For once, things don't seem all too predictable considering the latest corporate favorite has taken his place at the top of the food chain. Who will win the Rumble? Will Reigns hold the title heading into Mania? These are just a few questions that lead us into another year of WWE action. Not to mention the broader topics like the eventual return of Seth Rollins, the further expansion of NXT, and more developments on the status of Daniel Bryan's in-ring career. I won't say the year 2016 looks promising for WWE however it will certainly be another interesting year for the largest sports entertainment company in the world and being a life long fan, I'll undoubtedly be paying attention to see them take that next step down their journey.

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