First and foremost, before anyone fires up their keyboard to send angry messages let’s get one thing clear… Wrestling is a subjective art form. People love it for a variety of reasons and two die-hard fans can love the same wrestler based on entirely different rationale. My picks might not be yours, but that doesn’t make either of us wrong.
Now I don’t watch enough Japanese wrestling to include the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura or AJ Styles. I’m aware that they are amazing wrestlers, but I’m not involved enough with their main promotions to put them on this list.
Unfortunately, there is no trophy to go along with my decision and no grand ceremony to invite everyone to. But let’s meet the candidates…
Wrestler of the Year
Zack Sabre Jr
Anyone who knows me knows that Zack is my favourite wrestler, but let’s try and put that bias to one side (for now anyway). A skinny beanpole of an Englishman Zack Sabre Jr is a wizard when it comes to grappling and submission wrestling. His matches will often feature a series of unique captures and switches as he works over a limb. But he’s also a terrific striker; he throws his whole body behind kicks, looking like a scrappy kid in the playground determined to take the fight to the bullies.
My main exposure to him this year has been at PWG and he makes the short list thanks to his amazing performance at the 3 night extravaganza know as PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA) where he took on the likes of the Young Bucks, Pentagon Jr (a Luchador from AAA) and fellow Englishman Marty Scurll. Over the 3 days, Sabre Jr showed an ability to change his style of match. Going from a serious submission battle with Pentagon to opening up with traditional British goofiness against Scurll. His match with Roderick Strong – PWG’s champion – at “Don’t Sweat The Technique” was one of my favourite matches this year. Zack’s ability to blend comedy into his bouts in just the right doses before turning the volume up on the viciousness is superb.
Rollins started the year getting his first shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in a triple threat against John Cena and champion Brock Lesnar. Rollins stole the show with his performance that night and when he walked out of Wrestlemania as champion, everyone was happy for him. He’s played the cowardly, chicken-s*it heel to perfection since then and managed to coax good matches out of Kane and Sting. He even survived a feud with John Cena, who has burnt through up-and-comers previously. Perhaps the greatest compliment to Rollins’ 2015 is that he managed to make Raw fairly watchable during his title reign. Since his knee injury, the show has slid down hill rapidly. His reignited feud with Dean Ambrose was brilliant, as was his feud with Brock Lesnar.
There are many ways to describe Cena. “kid-friendly” is perhaps the nicest, but until 2015 “great wrestler” was not something often said. This year, in which he stepped away from the main event scene for the first time in a long time, has brought about a change in Cena though. After winning the US title at Wrestlemania Cena has put on hot match after hot match. His “Open Challenge” on Raw was always a fun part of the show, particularly when it was used to debut the likes of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens or to showcase the many talents of Cesaro. His feud with Owens was great, even if it didn’t have the conclusion many desired and he seems to have become an even better talker this year as well, rivalled only by the great Paul Heyman.
The PWG Champion for over a year now Roddy and his shitty little boots have been a great heel champion. Combined with The Young Bucks, Super Dragon and now Adam Cole to form Mount Rushmore 2.5 Strong has reigned over PWG with an iron fist and a viciousness rarely seen. But that’s not the only place Strong is working at the top of the card. He is currently Ring of Honor’s TV Champion and putting on quality match after quality match as a face. Strong suffers from a lack of exposure for me. I only really see him in PWG, where my love of Zack Sabre Jr can cloud everything else. However, there’s no doubt that Roderick Strong is one of the crispest wrestlers in the world right now and has one of the best chops going.
Her run with the NXT Women’s Championship was spectacular. “The Boss” of the NXT women’s division was a charismatic but vicious heel who was so good people couldn’t help but cheer for her. Sasha put on 3 match of the year level matches on NXT, first with Becky Lynch at Takeover: Unstoppable that made Becky a star and then twice with Bayley, first at Takeover: Brooklyn and then a 30-minute Ironman match at Takeover: Respect. She has a fantastic blend of in-ring ability, mic skills along with natural showmanship and charisma that captivated audiences. While she’s languished in on the main roster as Charlotte gets her push her work in NXT was truly sensational, and she could be a leading figure in WWE going forward.
AND THE WINNER OF THE REAL SPORT 2015 WRESTLER OF THE YEAR IS……
I give it to Seth for the unbeatable combination of his match quality, promo work and that he carried Raw for so long. Being the go-to guy to fill segment after segment of a 3 hour TV show every week is a serious responsibility and one that gets massive bonus points from me. Yes, it’s something that Zack Sabre Jr and Roderick Strong don’t have a chance to do. While Seth is chatting backstage with Kane or HHH on a Monday night they are working an EVOLVE show or over in Japan. Rollins’ ability to maintain fans attention week to week and not suffer from the over-exposure that could have easily come from being in so many segments every week. His matches at pay per views were brilliant, from the Royal Rumble triple threat to his ladder match with Dean Ambrose and SummerSlam for the title against with John Cena. His reaction to facing Brock Lesnar was sublime. Roderick Strong was a close second, his run with the PWG title this year has been captivating, but he hasn’t had the variance in his character that Seth Rollins has had.
Breakout Star – Kevin Owens
Owens made his NXT debut in December 2014. Since then he has won the NXT title in a superb feud with Sami Zayn, made fans care about Alex Reilly and wowed crowds with Finn Balor. Then he won his debut match with WWE against John Cena, was given the semi-main event slot on Summer Slam and became the #2 heel in the company with a brief Intercontinental run. His mic work has been great. From “shooting” on a disrespectful NXT crowd to sparring with Cena. 2016 could bring a WWE World Heavyweight shot for Owens, which would be an incredible thing for an overweight guy from Montreal who spent more than a decade on the indies just trying to get to WWE.
Faction of the Year – Mount Rushmore 2.0/2.5
I really wanted to give it to New Day for their brilliant comedy work through 2015, but Mt. Rushmore take the biscuit. The combination of the always entertaining Young Bucks, champion Roderick Strong and PWG legend Super Dragon have ruled over PWG all year, killing crowd favourites like the Ricochet and Candice LaRae in vicious fashion. Super Dragon is a Undertaker-like entity who has been a PWG fan favourite for years, but his heel turn in June was spectacular and utterly shocking. Just who will stop Mt. Rushmore is a question that will dominate 2016 for every PWG fan.
Promotion of the Year – Lucha Underground
NXT could have won this but for as enjoyable as NXT is it simply isn’t as fresh and special as Lucha Underground. Filmed out of a warehouse in Los Angeles, Lucha Underground is the American-based offshoot of Mexico’s AAA promotion and at first sounds like a non-starter. But they put together an original set to film in, have a great pair of commentators in Matt Striker & Vampiro. Lucha Underground have worked hard to ensure that not only does everyone have an interesting story going on regardless of if they’re champion or a newcomer but that the stories all make sense and each episode flows from the last. They have blended the Telenovela style of Latin American storytelling with a wrestling show to create something beautiful that will draw in lovers of wrestling and soap operas alike. They stick to “Seasons” like all your favourite TV dramas so there is no sense of over-exposure or battles without end that can stem from wrestling shows that on in perpetuity. I didn’t watch season 1 as it aired but have been catching up with it in preparation for season 2 which will start at the end of January and will be appointment viewing for me.Their roster is full of
Their roster is full of Luchadors from Mexico like Drago, Fenix and Pentagon Jr and imports from the North American independent scene like Brian Cage and Prince Puma. Then there are ex-WWE faces that are familiar to many such a Chavo Guerrero Jr, Johnny Mundo (formerly John Morrison) and Alberto El Patron (Alberto Del Rio). If you haven’t watched Lucha Underground before I guarantee you’ll have a hell of a good time going through season 1.