Welcome to the first ever IWE awards! Indy Wrestling Express writers Lee Goodfellow, Adrian Halilaj and our regular PWG correspondent Chad Simplicio have voted for what we think were the best things in wrestling in 2011. Enjoy!
Wrestler of the Year: Akira Tozawa (Dragon Gate, DGUSA, PWG)
Akira Tozawa became a star this year. From his blazing hot run in America to his triumphant return to Japan, it’s been a phenomenal twelve months for the twenty-six year old. His charisma is unparalleled, his matches are incredible, he has entertained me more than any other wrestler in 2011.
Match of the Year: Davey Richards vs Eddie Edwards 2 (Ring Of Honor World Championship - ‘Best in the World’, June 26th)
It was an absolute war, and it has remained my firm pick for match of the year since I watched it live. Davey’s emotional title victory was perfectly executed in this phenomenal match.
Show of the Year: Dragon Gate: Pro Wrestling Festival in Kobe (July 17th)
The Dragon Gate equivalent of WrestleMania was excellent this year. The upper card delivered three of the best matches of 2011 (Mochizuki vs BxB Hulk, Tozawa vs Shingo, PAC & Dragon Kid vs CIMA & Ricochet), with a solid undercard backing it up.
Best in the World: Masaaki Mochizuki (Dragon Gate)
Masaaki Mochizuki is the perfect wrestler. From his flawless psychology to his brutal strikes, he is an absolute master of his art. He carried Dragon Gate like a true ace throughout his second Dream Gate title reign, never failing to deliver first class performances.
Woman of the Year: I don’t follow any women’s wrestling promotions as closely as I’d like to, and there are probably many ladies there who deserve it more anyone in WWE or TNA, so I’m not voting in this one.
Most Improved: Johnny Gargano (DGUSA, Chikara, EVOLVE, AIW, PWO)
Back in 2010, I saw a lot of potential in Johnny Gargano. Fast forward to the end of 2011, and his résumé features world class matches with Japanese greats like YAMATO, CIMA and Naruki Doi. He is constantly improving, and is set to have a fantastic 2012 as the ace of Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE.
Rookie of the Year: Uhaa Nation (Dragon Gate, DGUSA)
Uhaa Nation was an instant hit when he burst into Dragon Gate USA, seemingly from out of nowhere, in the Autumn. Seeing such a big dude perfectly execute a standing shooting star press never ceases to impress. He has just finished his successful first tour of Japan with Dragon Gate. He is certainly one to watch in 2012.
Tag Team of the Year: “The Spike Mohicans” CIMA & Ricochet (Dragon Gate, DGUSA)
What a year these two have had. Ricochet has improved a lot under the wing of CIMA, and the Dragon Gate veteran benefitted greatly from the freshness of the young American. Winning tag team gold in spectacular matches on both sides of the Pacific, it’s been a hell of a year for the Spike Mohicans.
Feud of the Year: Junction Three vs Blood Warriors (Dragon Gate)
This year, I have found no feud in wrestling more engaging than the war between the two super-stables in Dragon Gate. From the uneasy alliances JIII were forced to form, to the heel Warriors finally winning all the gold at Final Gate, it’s been a very entertaining story, that still has a long way to go before its conclusion.
Moment of the Year: CM Punk escapes with the WWE championship (WWE “Money In The Bank”, July 17th) (Honourable mention: Super Dragon returns to PWG)
Most people were fooled into thinking that CM Punk was done with WWE following the Money In The Bank pay per view in July (his contract was set to expire in the storyline and in real life, apparently). The world was shocked when he defeated John Cena to lift the WWE title, then even more shocked as he survived the anticipated attack/title shot attempt from Alberto Del Rio. Punk absconded with the belt in the most electrifying moment in wrestling this year.
Promo of the Year: CM Punk (WWE Raw, June 27th)
The ball started rolling for CM Punk’s aforementioned title win here, as Punk delivered a now legendary worked-shoot promo. He set the wrestling world on fire as he tore into the WWE, voicing the opinions that many fans have had for years. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the promo, but if not, it’s well worth looking up on Youtube.
Best on the mic: Jay and Mark Briscoe
If you read my Ring Of Honor reviews, you will already know that there are few things I enjoy more (in wrestling) than listening to the Briscoes talk. They manage to be hilarious without distracting from the seriousness of their feuds, never failing to sell their matches while also making me laugh. They are the two most genuine characters in the business today.
Promotion of the Year: Dragon Gate
Dragon Gate and it’s American extension have entertained me all year, there’s no question that it’s my favourite promotion. A great roster with great feuds and great matches, what more can I ask for? Whether it’s in front of nine thousand people on pay per view in Japan, or in front of a few hundred in America, the Dragon Gate crew never fail to deliver.
Wrestler of the Year: Kevin Steen. No other wrestler in the world today is as watchable and unpredictable as Steen has been for these past twelve months. He has been the talk of the independent scene this year, and 2012 is only going to lead to even bigger and better things for him.
Match of the Year: Davey Richards vs Eddie Edwards (ROH World Championship, ‘Best in the World’, June 26th). A build-up and aftermath that oozed with real emotion and passion, backed up in the ring with an epic story told by arguably the two best workers in this industry today. An instant classic.
Show of the Year: EVOLVE 9 (July 26th). Two match-of-the-year candidates as the main events, a stacked undercard and Kevin Steen running riot throughout the entire night. What more could you ask for.
Best in the World: Davey Richards. There may be more charismatic wrestlers out there, but this year Davey has proven that from a purely wrestling point of view, he is unmatched. His mic work has improved leaps and bounds too. (Honourable mention: Eddie Edwards)
Woman of the Year: A tie between Sara Del Rey and Madison Eagles. The two best female wrestlers in the world right now, there’s not even a hair’s breadth separating them. With these two at the top and with many other great talents breaking through, the state of women’s wrestling is looking better than ever.
Most Improved: Johnny Gargano. 2011 has been Gargano’s breakout year, becoming one of the must-see stars of the indy scene. His Open The Freedom Gate title win in November is a testament to how far Gargano has come, and long may his rise continue.
Rookie of the Year: Michael Elgin. The ‘Unbreakable’ Canadian beast has taken Ring of Honor by storm combining his hard-hitting powerhouse moves with an athleticism unbecoming of a man of his size. It’s only a matter of time before he’s a serious contender to the World Title. (Honourable mention: Uhaa Nation)
Tag Team of the Year: The Briscoes. The now seven-time ROH Tag Team Champions continue to innovate and excite both in the ring and on the mic. Their feuds with the All Night Express and Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team have been among the best in wrestling this year, and at just 25 and 26 respectively, their already decorated careers are still only just beginning.
Feud of the Year: Randy Orton vs Christian. My only WWE pick, Orton and Christian carried Smackdown throughout the summer with a series of unbelievable matches over the World Heavyweight Championship. Christian’s heel turn gave his career a new lease of life, while Orton proved his naysayers wrong and showed just how talented a wrestler he truly is. (Honourable mentions: Briscoes vs ANX/WGTT, Kevin Steen vs El Generico, BDK vs Spectral Envoy, Richards vs Edwards)
Moment of the Year: Eddie Kingston becoming the first ever Chikara Grand Champion at ‘High Noon’ (November 13th). A great match where Mike Quackenbush passed on the proverbial torch to Kingston, with almost every Chikara wrestler, past and present, at ringside to witness this historic milestone. Post-match, the late Larry Sweeney’s sister presented the title to a tearful Kingston, who gave his best and most emotional promo yet, thus beginning a new chapter in Chikara’s history.
Promo of the Year: Tim Donst performing “Who’s the Man”. Donst is fast becoming one of the most entertaining members of the Chikara roster, and this brilliant, so-bad-it’s-good original composition is the standout piece of the many excellent promos he’s cut this year. (Honourable mention: CM Punk’s “shoot” on Raw, Davey Richards’ post-match speech at ‘Best in the World’, Eddie Kingston’s post-match speech at ‘High Noon’, anything by Kevin Steen)
Promotion of the Year: Ring of Honor. What more can be said about ROH’s accomplishments this year? With great wrestling, great booking, value for money and a TV deal which is opening them up to a whole new audience, 2011 has been the year where ROH has cemented its position as the biggest promotion in the indies. With TNA in dire straits, surely the only way is up for ROH in 2012?
Wrestler of the Year: El Generico
Match of the Year: Super Dragon & Kevin Steen vs. The Young Bucks in a Guerrilla Warfare Match (PWG: Fear, December 10th)
Show of the Year: Pro Wrestling Guerrilla “FEAR” (December 10th)
Best in the World: Davey Richards
Woman of the Year: SHIMMER Champion Cheerleader Melissa
Most Improved: Eddie Edwards
Rookie of the Year: (Didn’t see enough rookies here in So Cal to name one this year)
Tag Team of the Year: The Young Bucks
Feud of the Year: (No big surprise) Kevin Steen v. El Generico - First ROH, then PWG, now both ROH & PWG
Moment of the Year: (Tie) Davey Richards winning the ROH Championship at “Best in the World” & Super Dragon’s big return to PWG
Promo of the Year: Kevin Steen at the end of “Final Battle”, who is also the Best on the Mic.
Promotion of the Year: (Tie, and guess who….) Ring of Honor & Pro Wrestling Guerrilla