Cubed Circle Newsletter – Pro-Wrestling Year In Review 2013
Well the newsletter this week is out later than I wanted. We have a special pro-wrestling year in review 2013 issue for you this week looking at the best and worst moments of the year that has been with Ben Carass, Bryan Rose and myself, the top 124 matches of the year, the ratings table of doom returns, Christmas RAW, sixteen plus pages on the Observer awards and so much more! I also want to thank all of the regular readers for supporting the newsletter for the last couple of years; if there were no readers there would probably still be a newsletter, although a more pathetic one. I hope you enjoy this 45+ page issue and have a great New Year!
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
Pro-Wrestling Year in Review 2013 with Bryan Rose
Ok, so when Ryan asked me if I wanted to do a year in review type article for the newsletter, I was all like “sure, that’ll be fun!”. But then I realized that 2013 was such a gigantic year this is gonna be one big ass article. Because, you know, 2013 was a big year. Best way to sum it up is this- if you like wrestling based on workrate alone, this was your year. New Japan had plenty to love this year, and WWE throughout 2013 had a bunch of great matches as well. TNA, not so much but there was a few good matches here and there. Storyline wise, however, is a different story, especially in North America. WWE’s creative team hit new lows this year, not only making a majority of their roster seem unimportant background characters but continued to make their shows feel long and uninspired. Furthermore, most of their main event programs were lackluster to say the least. Not one big, major feud resonated with me this year and that’s kind of sad considering. TNA learned this year that it’s no longer about growing, but rather survivng in a climate where wrestling won’t become hot anytime soon, but as long as you have a certian number of viewers a week you’ll be fine. As we go into 2014, things are changing in the wrestling industry. With that said, there were still things to like in 2013, just was a little bit more difficult to find rather than turning the channel to the USA network.
Let’s separate my thoughts by promotion, since that’s easier for me.
New Japan Pro Wrestling had an incredible year workrate wise. Hiroshi Tanahashi, 2012 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler of the Year, continued to put on so many awe inspiring performances on a regular basis it’s almost certain that he’ll grab that title again for 2013. His feud with Kazuchika Okada, who this time two years ago was being whipped by Elijah Burke on Impact in a completely incoherent storyline that did him no favors, not only made Okada into a main event player for the promotion but also sparked one of the greatest workrate feuds of all time, comparable to the Ricky Steamboat/Ric Flair feud of 1989 or the incredible battles between Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi in the 90s and 2000s. But not only did he have an incredible series with Okada, he had a slew of other great matches in 2013 with the likes of Karl Anderson, Davey Boy Smith Jr., Satoshi Kojima, Prince Devitt, Katsuyori Shibata, and so many others. When he was voted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame a few month ago, there’s a reason why- 2012 and especially 2013 were banner years for him. As a result of all this, his body seems to be a bit banged up as of late, so it’s not certain how he will fare in 2014. But if he performs at even a fraction of the rate he did this year, he’ll be just fine.
The big shows this year were incredible, to say the least. The annual Tokyo Dome show, headlined by Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP championship, was an incredible card, one of the best cards I’ve ever seen live. From the live performance of Minoru Suzuki’s theme to the awesome IWGP Intercontinental championship match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazushi Sakuraba to the main event, the show was off the charts. Tanahashi and Okada’s rematch at Invasion Attack a few months later, however, was my personal match of the year. If you ever want to see a hot crowd witness an incredible match with excellent storytelling, excellent wrestling and an incredible last few minutes with Okada going on top, well there you go. The G-1 climax in August was probably the best tournament that’s ever been held in New Japan, and that’s no hyperbole. Hiroshi Tanahashi put on excellent matches against the likes of Kazuchika Okada, Davey Boy Smith, Tomohiro Ishii and much more. Speaking of Ishii, if there’s one New Japan guy that broke out of the pack this year, it would be Tomohiro Ishii. This guy, who was the opening match dude for much of his New Japan career, suddenly came into his own in this tournament, having an incredibly stiff and awesome match with Katsuyori Shibata and cementing himself as more than just an opening guy. Where he goes from 2013 is anyone’s guess, but I just hope there’s ideas abound for him.
Business wise, the promotion seems to be gaining momentum, which is a nice thing after years of that not being the case. After years of Inoki’s obsession with shootfighting nearly putting the promotion out of business, its popularity has continued to climb, but hasn’t reached the levels of their best runs. While they are popular, the top guys like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada are nowhere near the star level as people like Keiji Muto or Shinya Hashimoto were for the promotion in the past. They don’t appear to be penetrating the mainstream like they used to either, and that’s mainly due to lack of TV exposure. But with WrestleKingdom 8 coming in just a few short days, they have a number of big name celebrities to appear at the second biggest show of the year in all of pro wrestling. So at least that’s pretty cool.
2014 is going to be an interesting year for them. After a number of hot years and excellent performances, it seems that those performances are starting to take a toll on the wrestlers’ bodies. It’s no secret, just looking at the way they move a lot of the wrestlers on the roster are hurt and probably need to take some time off. That might be a good thing too- the roster seems to be getting a bit stale with the same feuds restarting over and over again. It would be a good idea for some of these guys to take some time off and bring in new guys into the mix. But the mentality in pro wrestling, and even more so in Japan, is that you work no matter what unless you are absolutely unable to. That will play heavily into 2014. And even then, 2013 was such a fantastic year that it’s going to be truly tough for anyone for a number of years to achieve the workrate quality that New Japan had this year.
WWE this year can be summed up in one word: bipolar. The good side of WWE is that the workrate this year was pretty damn good, perhaps the best it’s been in years. John Cena, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and the Shield have all had great matches over the last twelve months, and they’ve been proven as the cornerstone of the promotion when it comes to having great matches. Some of the matches this year in WWE have been off the charts- CM Punk vs. John Cena from February, CM Punk vs. The Undertaker at Wrestlemania and Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena at SummerSlam a month are great examples of that. The future looks bright in developmental as well as NXT has proven to be quite the great television show. Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn are going to be great right out of the gate when they finally do get called up. Bo Dallas has a fun gimmick that could work in the WWE and Mojo Rawley is a guy who is probably going to be a big star in a few years.
It’s also had a pretty good year in terms of finances. WrestleMania was close to breaking the all time record this year and had over 80,000 people at the event. Ratings have been steady throughout the year, and they even had their first sorta hit with their movie studio with The Call. Add that plus the TV rights fees they’re getting for that third hour of Raw and they’re doing just fine financially. Perception is reality with WWE, and by looking at them without knowing the product all that well it’s simple to determine that business is at best strong and there’s no real problems.
BUT, there are problems, all mostly centered around the writing. Most of the angles this year, to be blunt, have ranged from uninspired to s***. Wrestlemania this year, aside from the stadium seating and CM Punk vs The Undertaker, did not feel like that much of a show at all. Most of the buildup was weak, and at the end of the day if it wasn’t for the WrestleMania name or The Rock being there a lot of people wouldn’t have been interested, at least when it comes to pay per view. Most of the angles this year haven’t made a whole lot of sense or were any good at all for the people involved. Whether it was CM Punk messing around with Paul Bearers ashes, the constant burials of guys like Dolph Ziggler and The Miz, who were both way over at some point in their careers, Big Show turning for no real reason and being threatened with his job when his no cut contract suddenly became void and parity booking where everyone who won on the PPV lost their rematches the next night on Raw, nothing seems to matter much anymore. That only seems to be amplified when the announcers mostly seem very uninterested in the matches they’re supposed to be calling and instead talk about how dated their references are or engage in small talk. When the announcers don’t really seem to care at all what is going on during the show, how the hell am I supposed to?
But in the end, that’s a Vince McMahon thing. He’s creative. He has a bunch of yes men in creative who write what he wants and who aren’t going to question him when he wants to take a stab at JR or Obama or anyone who upset him that week. The unfunny comedy and crappy commentary will continue as long as he’s around, and his warped sense of what people want in 2014, both entertainment and wrestling wise, will continue and probably deteriorate even further as the years pass. That’s a sad reality to handle, but it’s true as evidenced by the last few years of Raw shows- good wrestling, but borderline incoherent storytelling. It used to be that people will say “oh, it’s pro wrestling, it’s not supposed to make sense.” And yes, there were times in pro wrestling history where a lot of things used to not make a whole lot of sense, like the dumb Higher Power angle or Kane not really being a burnt freak but just having “psychological scars” after years of telling the audience that he had a burnt face. But WWE shows lately seem to take it a bit further. WWE used to at least have ideas of where they were going when it came to long term planning, but now it just seems like they’re hastily putting together ideas the day the show is supposed to air, and consistency be damned the show is going to be done by the time it starts.
It’s not all gloom and doom, even though when it comes to the writing it’s the white elephant in the room that one wants to talk about. The long proposed WWE Network is coming to fruition, most likely in February, that if successful, WWE will be a very profitable company. It also means that they would be moving most of their PPVs to the network instead of asking you to pay 60 bucks a month. While that may be good, the problem is that there won’t be that many big events to hype anymore, leading the real focus of WWE revenue making to the network and its TV shows, not pay per view, which they perceive as a dying business. They’re saying this at a time when Mayweather’s constantly doing over a million buys and UFC’s shows, while down, are usually higher than most WWE shows barring Wrestlemania. But nope, dying business guys.
Another thing to note is that WWE’s TV contract for all of it’s shows are coming up soon as well, and they want a big fat raise. Live programing, such as sports events, is going high these days as it’s DVR proof and people will stick around to watch it. So WWE’s kinda marketing themselves as a sport again to they have a better chance of getting that raise. I think at the end of the day they’ll stick with NBC Universal as the other options don’t seem as viable as the networks they are on right now, but we’ll see. WWE is taking a lot of chances this upcoming year, and if they play their cards right they’ll be raking in a lot of money. Though, it could be the opposite as well. But either way, they’re fine- they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So that’s a look into 2014 as far as WWE goes, but this isn’t what this article is about! It’s about 2013. There was a lot of bad writing, but some pretty damn good matches if you look for them. A lot of people like to b***h about Raw and complain how wrestling isn’t good anymore and so on and so forth. And I agree with them to an extent- if you get excited about storylines leading to a big blowoff match, well, that isn’t WWE’s forte right now. They’re more concerned with Raw, how it’s getting them more money and the Network launch in February where they can potentially earn even more money. But with that said, if you’re looking for some great wrestling with a bunch of talented people, WWE has a lot of that. WWE might try it’s hardest to get you not interested in it’s programing, but if you try enough you’ll get some value out of it.
Oh, and just as I’m editing this, BATISTA IS COMING BACK! Maybe. That’ll be cool.
TNA this year realized that they weren’t going to grow any bigger anytime soon, something they probably should have realized a few months after Hogan came aboard. The golden carrot this year was live Impact TV tapings throughout the United States. They were gonna leave the Impact Zone for GOOD and travel across America. A good idea to go with, but the problem was that the interest just wasn’t there- crowds kept shrinking until there were only about 800 people attending these tapings. It was becoming heavily cost prohibitive to keep doing the tapings, and in fact they eventually had to return to the Impact Zone in Orlando in order to cut costs. That had to sting (that pun was so not intended, promise), but the reality is that TNA just isn’t popular enough to run around the US every week doing shows, and they learned that the hard way. And there was a lot of cost cutting in the process during the summer to stop the bleeding- many people were let go, including Jesse Sorensen, who they promised they would never cut (great PR move there), Mickie James who was coming into her own as a heel, Hulk Hogan who was probably too expensive to hold on to and didn’t really add much to the product in the end, and recently AJ Styles, though he might be back sooner than later depending on who you want to believe. Most people who they resign will probably be switched to pay per appearance deals and overall it’s a general feeling of bleakness right about now, with rumors of potential buyers floating in the air. But as long as they have the cable TV deal, which no other promotions aside from WWE has, I think they’re fine. If they lose that though, there’s trouble.
Storyline wise it’s been pretty dull. Aces and Eights got a lot of members, then when the cutbacks started whittled down to like Knux, Wes Briscoe and Garrett Bischoff. Excellent stable there. Then the Aces and Eights storyline, which never really went anywhere aside from Bully Ray coming into his own as a main event heel (and really, he didn’t need the group to do that) finally ended with a whimper when Ken Anderson returned and beat Bully Ray in a match. That whole angle lasted a year and didn’t really lead to anything much other than Bully Ray winning the title. Wasn’t that interesting either way. Dixie Carter also TURNED HEEL. What sounds like a horrible idea on paper turned out to be not terribly horrible, because she’s kind of decent as a heel. But that turn led to a feud between her and AJ Styles, basically ripping off the CM Punk storyline from 2011 where he leaves the company and goes across the world to defend it until he comes back to lose. But while that feud between Punk, Cena and McMahon was interesting and led to some great matches, this feud led to an uninteresting tournament filled with a bunch of uninteresting matches leading to an uninteresting wrestler winning the TNA title then beating AJ to unify both the titles. Yes, Magnus isn’t that interesting to me, sorry. He’s an ok promo, an ok wrestler with not much fanfare going behind him. He does have a star quality to him and he could improve as the top guy over the next year, but he’s not ready for something big like this. Being World Champion used to mean that you were the best. Nowadays the World title means you want to push someone, but don’t entirely have any ideas for them so you just put the title around them because they’ll come across as important that way.
Impact itself has improved dramatically since Russo’s exit last year. Everything seems far better paced and there’s more emphasis on wrestling, which is nice. Impact is a far more coherent program than Raw most of the time, with the storylines being alright and they do comedy better than WWE- it doesn’t feel as forced. Raw has better workers, however, and while their storylines are incoherent, at least they have some guys at the top who come across as real main event stars, whereas in TNA you have a bunch of guys who are either old, green, or are good but have been buried so much under the Russo era it doesn’t really matter what they do anymore. Impact is also two hours, so there’s a lot less filler and most of their stuff seems to be going somewhere, good or bad, so that’s a plus as well.
TNA’s in a transitional period right now. A lot of guys are leaving and they’re probably looking to replace all the old guys with new guys who can hopefully work. What their plans are for 2014 with Magnus as the champion is anyone’s guess. But it finally seems that TNA is getting the ball rolling with putting some new guys at the top. The problem is, they should have done that about seven years ago, and by now it’s too little, too late for that. Regardless of where they will be by the end of next year, things are finally changing in TNA, but who knows if it’s for the better or for the worse.
My prediction of Ring of Honor meeting it’s doom in 2013 was wrong. However it’s not like they’re doing all that great either. As good as some of the guys in Ring of Honor are, the problem is that none of them come across as real main event stars, just people who are really good and have something to them, but not THAT thing that makes them a top level guy. Their ongoing iPPV issues, to the point where they don’t even do them anymore, really puts them in a bind as far as interest. I think they’ll be ok in 2014, but they don’t seem to be going anywhere and they aren’t going to get too many eyeballs on them with the exception of the die hard fans who still follow the product.
All Japan Pro Wrestling was sold to Nobuo Shiraishi at the end of 2012, and proceeded to take the promotion from still existing to barely existing by the skin of it’s teeth. He made some really weird decisions, including cutting promos where he wanted to make All Japan “more real” and cut out all the fake stuff (great to let people know pro wrestling is fake, especially in Japan where they still kind of take it seriously) and above all else, ending up taking the presidency from Keiji Muto in June. Big mistake. This prompted Muto to quit, and over half the All Japan roster followed in the process. mirroring that fateful day in 2000 when Mitsuharu Misawa and nearly all the roster left All Japan to form NOAH. Muto created Wrestle-1 and they now run far more popular shows than All Japan, whose crowd numbers are at the hundreds most of the time. It’s crazy to see AJPW, which at one point had some of the biggest and hottest crowds seeing some of the greatest matches of all time, come to these kinds of levels. But the reality is that All Japan started to fall the day the first exodus happened, and it was simply existing until now, where I will probably be very amazed if it makes it past 2014. Stranger things have happened, though.
I don’t follow lucha that well to be perfectly honest, but the one lucha show I watched this year was the 80th anniversary of CMLL, and it was a fun show. Besides Rush coming out to Chris Benoit’s music, which was probably the most outstandingly weird thing I witnessed in pro wrestling in 2013 (and he came out to it as a TECHNICO), the highlight of the show was Volador Jr. vs. La Sombra in a mask vs. mask match. They had a hell of a match, around the ****1/4 range, with both hitting just about every high flying move imaginable until La Sombra got the pin and Volador unmasked. La Sombra definitely has something and at 23, WWE should probably take a look at him, as he’d probably be a better Sin Cara than Mistico or Hunico, granted he take a trip to the Performance Center. But the real story here is that people did not want to see this match at all. They wanted to see Atlantis and Ultimo Guerrero, two established lucha veterans, go at it with the same stips. In fact, the promotion used the likely potential of them unmasking as a basis to buy tickets, and it worked- it became the biggest event in Arena Mexico in a long time and had a ton of buzz. The stipulation was that whoever won the tag match between those four would go on in the main event to face each other. So when La Sombra and Volador Jr. won, the crowd, who was pretty hot throughout the entire show, got PISSED. For the rest of the night, chants of “fraud” could be heard, and who can blame them? CMLL promoted and hyped Atlantis and Ultimo Guerrero for months, and when it came time to deliver they got cold feet. I’m hearing business hasn’t been that great since and while I’m sure politics played heavily into the decision that night, it’s something they really didn’t need to happen to them right now.
So I think at nearly 4,000 words I’ve covered just about everything that happened in 2013, and maybe most of 2014 now that I think about it. It was a very newsworthy year, that’s for sure. Changes are coming, and for longtime fans it’s something to get nervous about. In North America, the pro wrestling we grew up watching is changing, with PPVs becoming less relevant and TV becoming the main emphasis of both promotions. The days of getting excited for PPVs are over, and that’s sad. But that doesn’t mean you need to go at and start hate watching Raw every week, frothing at the mouth over Dolph Ziggler getting jobbed out again or whatever. It’s very easy to go and find something to get mad at in pro wrestling because when it comes to WWE or TNA, it’s becoming more prevalent with each passing week. But there’s always something fun to find. Raw still has some great matches every now and then. Impact is easy to watch, as well as NXT. New Japan’s big shows are well worth watching, and if you look at the indy scene there’s always some promotion (like PWG, which everyone tells me to watch and yes I’m going to eventually but just HOLD ON OK) who are putting on fun shows that will properly gauge your interest a bit more. Instead of getting angry just find something that interests you is all I’m saying. 2013 had it’s ups and downs, just like 2012 did, and 2014 will probably be the same as well.
And that’s it! if you want to follow me on twitter, please do so @br26. You can find my blog there and read it as there’s one or two interesting things on it. Until then, later!
Ryan’s Top Matches of 2013
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi NJPW Invasion Attack 04/07 *****
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata NJPW 08/04 *****
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi NJPW 10/14 **** ¾
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii NJPW 08/02 **** ¾
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hirooki Goto 06/22 **** ¾
- Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Shinsuke Nakamura NJPW 01/04 **** ¾
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi NJPW 08/04 **** ¾
- CM Punk vs. John Cena WWE RAW 02/25 **** ¾
- Masato Tanaka vs. Tomohiro Ishii NJPW 02/03 **** ¾
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada NJPW 01/04 **** ¾
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 05/03 **** ¾
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi NJPW 08/10 **** ½
- Undertaker vs. CM Punk WrestleMania 29 April 7th 04/07 **** ½
- KENTA vs. Takashi Sugiura NOAH 05/12 **** ½
- Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena WWE SummerSlam **** ½
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Togi Makabe NJPW 06/22 **** ½
- CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar WWE SummerSlam **** ½
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Karl Anderson NJPW New Beginning 02/03 **** ½
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hirooki Goto NJPW 03/17 **** ½
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi NJPW 08/11 **** ½
- The Shield vs. Daniel Bryan, Kane & Ryback WWE TLC 12/16 **** ½
- CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho WWE Payback **** ¼
- Minoru Suzuki vs. Kota Ibushi NJPW 08/10 **** ¼
- Akira Tozawa vs. Ricochet DGUSA 04/06 **** ¼
- Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Shinsuke Nakamura NJPW 04/05 **** ¼
- Togi Makabe vs. Tomohiro Ishii NJPW 08/10 **** ¼
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. NJPW Invasion Attack 04/07 **** ¼
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hirooki Goto NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 05/03 **** ¼
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Satoshi Kojima NJPW 09/29 **** ¼
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Hirooki Goto NJPW 08/02 **** ¼
- Final Burning Kenta Kobashi Retirement Tag 05/17 *** ½
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Prince Devitt NJPW 03/03 **** ¼
- Prince Devitt vs. Gedo NJPW 07/05 **** ¼
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Minoru Suzuki NJPW 08/02 **** ¼
- Prince Devitt vs. Alex Shelley NJPW 04/05 **** ¼
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Togi Makabe NJPW 08/04 **** ¼
- reDragon vs. The American Wolves ROH Supercard of Honor 04/05 **** ¼
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. NJPW 08/03 **** ¼
- Karl Anderson vs. Tetsuya Naito NJPW 08/11 **** ¼
- Johnny Gargano vs. Shingo DGUSA 04/06 **** ¼
- Akira Tozawa vs. Shingo DGUSA 04/07 **** ¼
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Tetsuya Naito NJPW 08/10 **** ¼
- KENTA vs. Takeshi Morishima NOAH 01/27 **** 1/4
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Satoshi Kojima NJPW 08/02 **** ¼
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Hirooki Goto NJPW 03/23 **** 1/4
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Prince Devitt NJPW 07/20 **** ¼
- Antonio Cesaro vs. Kofi Kingston WWE Mainevent 05/01 **** ¼
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii NJPW 10/14 **** ¼
- Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki NJPW 01/04 ****
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi NJPW 08/11 ****
- Go Shiozaki vs. KAI AJPW 04/29 ****
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kazuchika Okada NJPW 08/07 ****
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Satoshi Kojima NJPW 08/01 ****
- Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito NJPW 08/02 ****
- The Shield vs. Usos WWE Money in the Bank Pre-Show ****
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Satoshi Kojima NJPW 08/11 ****
- The Shield vs. John Cena, Sheamus & Ryback WWE Elimination Chamber 02/17 ****
- Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins WWE RAW 06/10 ****
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Naomichi Marafuji NJPW 10/14 ****
- Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin NJPW 06/22 ****
- Forever Hooligans vs. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards ROH 11th Anniversary Show 03/02 ****
- Antonio Cesaro vs. Daniel Bryan WWE RAW 07/22 ****
- The Shield vs. Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton & Kane WWE RAW 06/03 ****
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. Satoshi Kojima NJPW 03/11 ****
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma 11/09 ****
- Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi vs. Low Ki 01/04 ****
- Hiroshi Yamato vs. Shuji Kondo AJPW 01/02 ****
- Prince Devitt vs. Alex Shelley NJPW 06/09 ****
- Minoru Suzuki vs. Tomohiro Ishii NJPW 07/20 ****
- Minoru Suzuki vs. Tetsuya Naito NJPW 08/04 ****
- Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Masato Tanaka NJPW Invasion Attack 04/07 ****
- Kensuke Sasaki & Takashi Sugiura vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Shinjiro Otani Diamond Ring 02/11 ****
- CHAOS vs. Suzuki-gun NJPW 03/03 ****
- Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Satoshi Kojima NJPW 08/04 ****
- RAW Money in the Bank WWE Money in the Bank ****
- Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazuchika Okada NJPW New Beginning 02/03 ****
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. La Sombra NJPW 07/20 ****
- Jay & Mark Briscoe vs. ReDragon ROH 11th Anniversary Show 03/02 ****
- WWE Elimination Chamber WWE Elimination Chamber 02/17 ****
- Chris Sabin vs. Austin Aries TNA Impact 07/04 ****
- Kevin Steen vs. El Generico ROH Final Battle 12/16 ****
- The Shield vs. Undertaker, Daniel Bryan & Kane WWE RAW 04/22 ****
- Dolf Ziggler vs. John Cena WWE TLC 12/16 ****
- Jay Lethal vs. Michael Elgin ROH Supercard of Honor 04/05 ****
- Kevin Steen vs. Jay Lethal ROH 11th Anniversary Show 03/02 ****
- Christopher Daniels vs. AJ Styles TNA Final Resolution 12/09 ****
- Jay Lethal vs. Kevin Steen ROH Supercard of Honor 04/05 ****
- Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada & Gedo vs. Minoru Suzuki, Kengo Mashimo &Hiro Tonai NJPW 02/03 *** 3/4
- Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton WWE Payback *** ¾
- Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hirooki Goto & Yuji Nagata NJPW Invasion Attack 04/07 *** ¾
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Yuji Nagata NJPW 08/03 *** ¾
- Koji Kanemoto, Minoru Tanaka & Hiroshi Yamata vs. Kotaro Suzuki, Atsushi Aoki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru *** ¾
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Minoru Suzuki NJPW 11/09 *** ¾
- The Shield vs. Daniel Bryan, Kofi Kingston & Kane WWE RAW 05/20 *** ¾
- Alex Shelley vs. TAKA Michinoku NJPW 06/09 *** ¾
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Masato Tanaka NJPW 11/09 *** ¾
- Forever Hooligans vs. Time Splitters NJPW 06/22 *** ¾
- SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder Match WWE Money in the Bank *** ¾
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Karl Anderson NJPW 03/17 *** ¾
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata NJPW 08/07 *** ¾
- Kota Ibushi vs. Karl Anderson NJPW 08/03 *** ¾
- Minoru Suzuki vs. Yuji Nagata NJPW 08/01 *** ¾
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Togi Makabe NJPW 08/03 *** ¾
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Karl Anderson NJPW 08/01 *** ¾
- Hiroshi Tanahashi & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Karl Anderson & Prince Devitt NJPW 02/03 *** ¾
- Hiroshi Tanahashi & BUSHI vs. Kazuchika Okada & Gedo NJPW 04/05 *** ¾
- Prince Devitt vs. Ryusuke Taguchi NJPW New Beginning 02/03 *** ¾
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Yujiro Takahashi NJPW 10/14 *** ¾
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Shelton Benjamin NJPW 08/11 *** ¾
- Dolf Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio WWE Payback *** ¾
- Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell TNA Slammiversary 06/04 *** ¾
- Shuji Kondo vs. Taiji Ishimori NOAH 01/27 *** 3/4
- Masato Tanaka vs. Tetsuya Naito NJPW 07/20 *** ¾
- Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards vs. Bobby Fish & Kyle ‘O Reilly ROH Final Battle 12/16 *** 3/4
- Masato Tanaka vs. Tomoaki Honma NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 05/03 *** ¾
- Hiroshi Tanahashi & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Karl Anderson & Prince Devitt New Japan Road to New Beginning 02/11 *** ¾
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Masato Tanaka NJPW 09/29 *** ¾
- CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho WWE RAW 02/04 *** ¾
- Ayako Hamada vs. Athena Shimmer 53 04/06 *** ¾
- Taiji Ishimori vs. Eddie Edwards ROH Border Wars 05/04 *** ¾
- Takao Omori & Manabu Soya vs. Masakatsu Funaki & Masayuki Kono AJPW 01/02 *** 3/4
- Roderick Strong vs. Michael Elgin ROH 11th Anniversary Show 03/02 *** ¾
- Jeff Hardy vs. Austin Aries vs. Bobby Roode TNA Genesis 01/14 *** ¾
- Michael Elgin vs. Tommaso Ciampa ROH Best in the World *** ¾
Ben’s 2013: The Good, the Bad and the Authority.
What a year. The Rock ended CM Punk’s 434 day WWE Championship reign to hold the strap for the first time in over a decade then predictably dropped it to John Cena in another disappointing WrestleMania main event. William Moody’s death was tactlessly incorporated into the build for Undertaker vs. CM Punk and we were treated to Phil Brooks rubbing the symbolic ashes of Paul Bearer all over himself. Triple H made sure Brock Lesnar didn’t pick up too much steam with the two matches that finished their series; Hunter may have “put over” Brock twice, but ever the pro, Trips made sure to get his win in front of the most eyes as possible at WrestleMania. The post Mania Raw in New Jersey’s Izod Centre may have been the most spontaneously fun experience of the entire year, with the crowd completely taking over the show in a manner that may never be equalled. On that show, Dolph Ziggler finally cashed in Money in the Bank and blew the roof off the place, however fast forward 7 months and Ziggler is back to putting over geeks on PPV pre-shows. Thanks to overwhelming fan support and top-notch performances in the ring, Daniel Bryan flying kneed his way through the glass ceiling and reached what should have been the pinnacle of his career so far when he cleanly pinned John Cena’s shoulder’s to the mat in the main event of SummerSlam. However, with one quick pedigree Bryan’s big moment was virtually erased from the record and so began what I dubbed at the time, “The McMahon/Helmsley Regime II: Burials With a Vengeance”. Yes, “the Authority” storyline had begun; Triple H and Stephanie took precedence over everyone on the roster, including their supposed chosen champion, Randy Orton, then we were treated to some of the most counter-productive booking and a run of the worst WWE PPVs in recent memory.
Personally, when I think about pro wrestling in 2013 there is an undeniable dichotomy and disharmony between the actual in-ring product and the creative direction of the storylines. WWE in particular exemplified this troubling imbalance, as many journalists were praising the company for what seemed to be one of the best run of PPVs and TV matches in over a decade, however there always seemed to be problems with the booking. CM Punk had three of the best matches of his career (Cena on the February 25th Raw, Undertaker at Mania & Lesnar at SummerSlam), yet lazy booking plagued his run with Taker then he was tasked with trying to make Curtis Axel a believable foe during the feud with Paul Heyman and recently Punk was thrown into a makeshift program with the Shield for no reason other than the writers’ own incompetence. Then there is Daniel Bryan, who not only helped get the Shield over during the heel trio’s initial big push, but also displayed the kind of babyface fire you only hear about in old-timer’s shoot interviews and got himself over as the people’s choice to be the next WWE Champion. A frankly pathetic angle saw Bryan gifted a title shot against Cena at SummerSlam, which no-doubt hurt the buy-rate. As expected, Bryan and Cena had a beast of a match; a match that symbolically represented the end of all the good work that Bryan had put in to reach the top of the card and the start of a run of disgraceful PPVs, not to mention the vomit-inducing, “authority” storyline. The year ended it typically feeble fashion with a panic move to unify the two World Titles; after producing 5 out of 5 PPV screwjob/horrible finishes and 4 consecutive contenders for worst PPV of the year, someone must have realised that the company was in danger of alienating some of the fan-base if they didn’t finally deliver on their promises. So after 11 years of speculation and fantasy booking, WWE has one World Heavyweight Champion again. Unfortunately, 3 weeks of build made “the biggest match in history” feel like an absolute joke, not the epic moment in time the WWE promoted and promised.
Then there is TNA; oh TNA. Even during the Russo years, there was enough good wrestling for me to not completely throw in the towel with these goofballs. Now, at the end of 2013, I find myself on the verge of washing my hands altogether with the company, or at least until Bob and Janice Carter get sick of Dixie throwing their family fortune down the toilet. In a year that we were treated to Brooke Hogan taking centre stage in a seemingly well booked, but no less horrendous marriage to Bully Ray, a super convoluted evolution of the Aces & Eights and their long overdue demise after Eric Bischoff was finally sent home, the emergence of an incompetent heel Dixie Carter and her incomprehensible handling of the AJ Styles angle, the most entertaining thing about TNA is keeping up with all the rumours and speculation of what is going on behind the scenes. They moved out of the Impact Zone in February and took a huge financial hit on trying to run bi-weekly live editions of Impact on the road; this may have seemed like a good idea at the time, however TNA’s lack of star power hurt their drawing ability and with virtually no house show business, in addition to cutting back to 4 PPVs, the company was forced to head back to Orlando before the year was out. Talent was being cut left and right, the one that caused the biggest stir was Jesse Sorrenson, who Dixie promised a “job for life” after he broke his neck on her watch; ever the philanthropist, Dixie had no problem writing cheques for Tito Ortiz and Quinton Jackson, who were promoting a fight for a different company on her show. This led to the infamous and hilarious #AskDixie fiasco one Thursday night in July, where Miss Carter felt the full wrath of disgruntled wrestling fans and a few trolls that revelled in pointing out TNA’s many shortcomings as a wrestling company. Then came the rumours of a sale. If you believed the IWC, TNA was either going to be sold or would be out of business by the close of the year; neither proved to be the case, yet the possibility of a potential buyer for the promotion could still be on the cards, however talk of a buy-out has cooled off considerably over the past month or so. Perhaps the most incredible occurrence was Hulk Hogan not signing a new contact and heading off into the sunset and potentially an appearance at WrestleMania XXX. If you needed any further proof that TNA was in major penny-pinching mode, then the departure of the biggest name to ever appear on Impact should tell you where the company’s priorities are at the minute. Similarly, AJ Styles contract was allowed to expire while he still held the World Title; TNA would claim that their intention was to replicate the CM Punk angle from 2011 and pull it off better than the WWE did. Well, AJ may have gone to AAA and Wrestle-1 to defend the belt, but in the end it meant nothing and Alan Jones went the way of the Hulkster and is now taking Indy dates, while Magnus is being prepared for the top spot. Of course, the AJ thing could be an elaborate work and he may return in the New Year, however he, along with other TNA stalwarts like Samoa Joe, Chris Daniels, Kazarian, Booby Roode and James Storm may have to take a substantial pay-cut to keep their spot in the company. As for Sting and Kurt Angle, only they know if is worth sticking around in 2014, but regardless of the loyal one million viewers they average on Spike every week, TNA is in desperate need of something that will generate a positive interest in their product and I’m afraid that pushing Magnus to the moon is not, nor will it ever be the answer.
As for Ring Of Honor, well unfortunately they fell into the same trap as TNA, in that their major angles in 2013 were rehashes of old WWE storylines or in the case of SCUM, a full on 1997 style NWO that wanted to kill the company. Kevin Steen started out the year as World Champion, still running wild as the monster heel with Steve Corino & Jimmy Jacobs by his side. However, after Steen retained the ROH title over Jay Briscoe at the 11th Anniversary Show, tensions began to build between himself and the ever verbose Corino. When Steen dropped the strap to Briscoe in what was a real feel-good moment at Supercard of Honor VII, the following evening’s TV tapings saw Corino oust Steen from his own stable in a big ECW style hot-shot angle that saw Matt Hardy, Rhyno, Cliff Compton and Rhett Titus all join the new SCUM, with the goal of killing off ROH for good. Of course this kind of angle made no sense back in the 90s, but due to WCW’s popularity after the Outsiders jumped ship and Hogan turned heel, the Atlanta based group were able to at least keep the people tuning in for a year-or-so. Until the novelty of an “invading” faction had worn off and it became clear that the only threat of WCW being killed came from the morons in charge of running the company. The new SCUM were gone as quickly as they arrived after a wild War Games style TV match in which Team ROH, led by Steen, defeated Corino’s boys and per the stips, SCUM were forced to disband. Back to the World title and with both Briscoes written out of storylines (Jay was still the ROH Champion), rumours swirled about the possibility of Dem Boys heading to the WWE. Sadly, some frankly appalling comments from Jay on Twitter killed that possibility dead and the Briscoes were back on ROH TV in a couple of months. In the meantime, Adam Cole won a pretty average tournament to become the new ROH World Champ, beating Michael Elgin in the tourney final. Jay returned to hand over the belt he never lost and Cole showed his appreciation by superkicking Briscoe in preparation for a feud over who was the real champion; Jay even had his own World Title belt made and both men claimed to be the one true champion, sound familiar? If a tired invading heel stable bent on killing the company and a storyline that saw the World Champion “leave” the company, then said company crowning a new Champion for a Champion vs. Champion program wasn’t enough, Nigel McGuiness as the TV authority figure was made to look rather incompetent when he couldn’t keep Corino out of the company even after the SCUM deal. Add Joe Koff’s increasing presence as an on-air personality and Ring of Honor, what was once a cutting edge alternative to mainstream American pro-wrestling, is quickly becoming a stale, diluted number three wrestling company. I know Hunter Johnston is a meticulous booker and likes to plan angles way in advance, which is becoming a lost art in this day and age. Still, if you are churning out angles that are identical, or even mildly similar, to what WWE or TNA are doing then the product is inevitably going to suffer. It doesn’t matter if Johnston laid out the Cole/Briscoe champion vs. champion idea a year ago, all that matters is that people will think back to CM Punk “leaving” the WWE in 2011 as champion and coming back to face John Cena in a Title vs. Title match. Plus, with TNA and the high-school mentality of whipping out their phallus in order to prove they can do the Punk angle “correctly”, ROH needs to distinguish itself as a complete alternative to the other two companies and hope they can stir up some of the buzz they lost a couple of years ago.
Since DGUSA made it onto my “best promotion” list, I should say a little something about the Indy scene. With WWE, TNA and ROH providing angles and storylines that are at times painful to watch, DGUSA’s product may very well be behind only New Japan and their Japanese home promotion in terms of quality in-ring action. Now, obviously I am not advocating doing away with building feuds and programs; I love a good long story arc as much as anyone and an episodic format along with going on an emotional ride is what pro-wrestling has been built on since the first big TV stars like Thesz, Gagne and Gorgeous George. That being said, it was certainly a lot of fun and a huge relief to sit down for a DGUSA show and not have to worry about utterly ridiculous premises or totally illogical storylines ruining the enjoyment of a good wrestling show. And DGUSA certainly had plenty of great wrestling shows this year. Johnny Gargano’s epic two year plus Open the Freedom Gate title reign continued with fabulous defences over Shingo (after which he turned heel to freshen up his run as champion), Akira Tozowa and most recently Chris Hero. Gargano has constantly delivered in his role as the promotions top guy and has done so against a nice mix of talent this year: CIMA, EITA & Tomahawk TT (in a burner of a six-man), Samuray Del Sol, Trent Baretta, Rich Swann and Jon Davis; you could argue Swann and Davis were taken to a new level in their outings against Gargano and the match with Shingo could easily have been a contender for match of the year if it wasn’t for that pesky G1 Climax. Naturally, there was the usual assortment of technical issues with the iPPVs. Most notably the EVOLVE 19 show that kicked off the WrestleCon festivities died a death, and if Gabe Sapolski didn’t have enough trouble dealing with people asking for refunds on twitter (I myself managed to get a free VOD of this year’s Mercury Rising) the following night’s DGUSA show suffered from a few gremlins also. I suppose this is an issue that eventually needs to be sorted one way or another, they could always go down the ROH route of releasing a VOD the next day, however if you just want some great wrestling, without ridiculous angles then give DGUSA a chance in 2014.
It was more of the same from CZW, who despite losing two of their best workers continued to trudge along in the face of a wrestling business that seemingly stopped taking notice about six years ago. Sami Callihan and Adam Cole ended their long standing feud with one more go-around, which culminated in a hard-hitting “final encounter” at the annual Best of the Best show, however the two went on to have a typically good-in-parts Iron Man match for PWG two months later. Sami went on to sign a developmental deal with WWE, while Cole was passed over by the geniuses in the NXT Performance Centre and had to make do with simultaneously holding the PWG and ROH World Titles. Masada kicked off 2013 still the CZW World Champion and defended against Christina Von Eerie in an Inter-gender Ultraviolent contest, after which the two were so turned on by jamming BBQ skewers into each other’s skulls, they started a romance angle: go figure. Masada tentatively turned heel during a bloodbath with Jun Kasai at WrestleCon when Von Eerie got involved, however a legitimate knee injury meant his nearly two year title reign was about to come to a somewhat unexpected end. Drew Gulak and his Campaign for a better Combat Zone had been building steam since the end of last year, however when Gulak made Masada tap after working over his knee in their August title match, the kind of heat that should have been generated by the anti-CZW guy beating an ultraviolent fan favourite for the World Title was nowhere near what it should have been. The promotion’s annual big year end event, Cage of Death 15, was possibly their best all-round show in a long time; Gulak defended the title over Chris Hero in a solid encounter, Davey Richards said farewell to the indies and put over Chris Dickenson in a brutal match, there was an insane six-way spot-fest, The Colony put the Beaver Boys over in a decent outing and the Nation of Intoxication downed the Forgotten Ones in the customary, stunt-filled Cage of Death when, of all people, Sick Nick Mondo made a surprise run-in.
What can anyone say about New Japan that hasn’t already been stated a million times over the past couple of years? The company is without doubt the best all-round professional wrestling company on the planet. Wrestle Kingdom VII at the Tokyo Dome set a benchmark on January 4th that was damn near impossible to pass, however for the first time in history I was able to watch every single night of G1 climax in almost real time and that two week period in August was without doubt the most enjoyable period of my 20+ years as a wrestling fan. Mere semantics separate Tanahashi and Okada for title of “Wrestle of the year”; the two have had arguably the most consistent run of outstanding matches in the 41 year history of the promotion. I found myself leaning towards Okada, simply because he proved that he had the potential to be every-bit the champion that Tanhashi was, making lesser challengers like Makabe and Karl Anderson seem up to the task of dethroning the IWGP champ. Tanahashi on the other hand had classics with Devitt, Ishii, Naito, Kojima and engaged in a match with Davey Boy Smith Jr. that had no right to be as good as it was. Both men were outstanding in their 4 matches with each other in 2013 and realistically were untouchable throughout the entire year; it really is a toss of a coin scenario to establish which one of these tremendous performers deserves to be regarded as the 2013 MVP.
When it comes to the number two company in Japan, I don’t think any rational person can argue against Dragon Gate being second only to Shin Nihon Pro Wrestling; in terms of all round work-rate, drawing ability and overall quality of their big shows, Dragon Gate has clearly been ahead of the other competition in 2013. Still, and somewhat contradictory, I just couldn’t bring myself to give them the runner-up spot for promotion of the year. Perhaps it is down to the faction-heavy nature of the company, the somewhat numbing 100mph/a million-spots-a-minute style or the litany of goofball gimmicks that fill up the under-card, something just compelled me to overlook the stunning efforts of Yoshino, Tozawa, Doi, Cima, Hulk & co. That something was Pro Wrestling NOAH, or more specifically, KENTA. NOAH started off 2013 with the ridiculous idea of releasing one of, if not the, greatest of all time, Kenta Kobashi, which saw an exodus of fellow Burning members; most notably, Akiyama, Shiozaki and Kanemura. Thankfully, a deal was reached and one of the most emotional nights of the year ensued on May 11th, when Kobsahi retired after a 40+ minute eight-man tag in his symbolic home of Budokan Hall. On a similar, but more low-key note, Akira Taue’s retirement ceremony took place on December 7th during one of NOAH’s biggest shows of the year. Taue hung up the boots after another eight-man in which he teamed with 3 of his students over the years, Morishima, Sugiura & Hirayanagi. Even though Taue’s retirement may not have resonated across the globe like Kobashi’s, the fact that the two remaining active members of All Japan’s “big four” during the 90’s have called it a day is definitely worth some reflection and once-and-for-all marks a definitive end to one of the greatest times in the history of the pro wrestling business. As for KENTA, ignoring that NOAH waited far too long to pull the trigger on giving him the GHC Heavyweight Title and now he is stuck in a position of trying to resurrect a dying promotion, he was involved in some of the best matches of the year, including his title winning effort over former champ, Morishima and defences over Sugiura and Marufuji. His outings against Diasuke Sekimoto and Shane Haste remained very good, however could have been more fluid by trimming 5-10 minutes (perhaps even 15 in the case of Haste). Despite the GHC Title not meaning a third of what it has in the past, the fact that KENTA finally got his chance to run with the belt and his, albeit somewhat misguided, attempts to re-enact the 90’s style All Japan, “big match” feel is enough for me to give NOAH the nod over Dragon Gate this year. It may not make much sense, but I couldn’t resist acknowledging the attempts to make the GHC Heavyweight Title relevant again, before the belt made famous by Misawa and Kobashi goes the way of All Japan’s Triple Crown. And the less said about All Japan, the better.
So, it is that time again for another omnipresent compiling of the best and worst of the year into, you guessed it, A LIST!!! Please, try control your enthusiasm as you gaze over my selections for the class of 2013 and as always, if you disagree with something, take a deep breath and remember that this is just my opinion, before you head on to the site or twitter to enlighten me about how little I actually know about pro wrestling.
Ben’s Best & Worst of 2013.
The Mid-South Wrestling Award for Promotion of the Year:
The Total Nonstop Action Award for Worst Promotion of the Year:
|1) New Japan Pro Wrestling||1) TNA|
|2) Pro Wrestling NOAH||2) Ring of Honor|
|3) DGUSA||3) WWE|
The Kenta Kobashi Award for Wrestler of the Year:
The Raja Lion Award for Worst Wrestler of the Year:
|1) Kazuchika Okada||1) Freight Train|
|2) Hiroshi Tanahashi||2) Eva Marie|
|3) Daniel Bryan||3) Garrett Bischoff|
Match of the Year (All from G1 Climax Tourney – Masahiro Chono/Keiji Mutoh Award):
|The Kobashi/Misawa/Kawada/Taue Award for Non G1 Climax Match of the Year:|
|1) Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (Day 4)||1) Tanahashi vs. Okada (Invasion Attack)|
|2) Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata (Day 4)||2) Shibata vs. Hirooki Goto (Dominion)|
|3) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Day 2)||3) Tanahashi vs. Okada (Wrestle Kingdom 7)|
Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff vs. The Bushwhackers Award for Worst Match of the Year:
The Claire Lynch Award for Worst Angle of the Year:
|1) Santino Marella vs. Heath Slater (SmackDown Sept 27)||1) The Authority burying everybody on the stage/bankrupting Big Show/screwing over Daniel Bryan constantly|
|2) Freight Train vs. Greg Excellent (CZW Cage of Death 15)||2) Aces & Eights trying to take over TNA|
|3) Eva Marie, JoJo, Natalya vs. Aksana, Rosa Mendes, Alicia Fox (Raw Oct 7)||3) SCUM trying to “kill” Ring of Honor|
The Dick Murdoch Run-in & Brainbuster on the Floor Award for Best Angle of the Year:
The Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon Award for Feud of the Year:
|1) Mark Henry’s phony retirement on Raw (June 17)||1) Hiroshi Tanahshi vs. Kazuchika Okada|
|2) Paul Heyman turns on CM Punk (Money in the Bank – Hell in a Cell)||2) CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar|
|3) The Shield becoming kings of the six-man (TLC 2012 – SmackDown June 14)||3) Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata|
The Kane vs. Gene Snitsky Award for Worst Feud of the Year:
The Chael Sonnen Award for Best Promo of the Year:
|1) The Authority vs. Daniel Bryan/everyone||1) Paul Heyman|
|2) Dixie Carter vs. AJ Styles||2) CM Punk|
|3) Total Divas vs. Non-Total Divas||3) Bully Ray|
The Matt Turner & Anthony Franco Award for Worst Promo of the Year:
The New Japan, “This is too Easy” Award for Show of the Year:
|1) Dixie Carter||1) NJPW – Wrestle Kingdom 7|
|2) Curtis Axel||2) NJPW – G1 Climax Day 4|
|3) Bo Dallas||3) NJPW – Dominion|
The WrestleMania XVII Award for North American Show of the Year:
The Any WCW PPV from 2000 Award for Worst Show of the Year:
|1) WWE Payback||1) WWE BattleGround|
|2) DGUSA Open the Ultimate Gate||2) WWE Night of Champions|
|3) WWE SummerSlam||3) EVOLVE 19|
The Trish Stratus Award for Most Improved:
The Velvet Sky Award for Least Improved:
|1) Roman Reigns||1) Curtis Axel|
|2) Adam Cole||2) Ryback|
|3) Brie Bella||3) YOSHI-HASHI|
The Ricky Morton Award for Babyface of the Year:
The Fred Blassie Award for Heel of the Year:
|1) Daniel Bryan||1) WWE’s entire creative team|
|2) CM Punk||2) Prince Devitt|
|3) Sami Zayn||3) Dean Ambrose|
The Hansen & Brody Award for Tag Team of the Year:
|The Vince Russo Award for Sheer Stupidity.|
|1) The Shield (Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns)||1) Cutting Bryan’s legs off when he PINNED Cena CLEAN at SummerSlam.|
|2) Cody Rhodes & Goldust||2) Dixie Carter portraying an incompetent heel promoter on TV.|
|3) reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly)||3) WWE booking 5 screwjob/weak PPV main event finishes in a row.|
Red Text = Holiday Show
Blue text = Football Competition
Green text = Night After PPV
Purple text = Major competition
|Date||Rating/Viewers in millions||Largest Gain||Largest Loss||Hourly viewership in millions/18-49 rating hour 1, 2, 3/viewership 1,2,3 in million viewers where applicable.||Notes|
|January 1st||2.32/3.55||800,000 with Dolf Ziggler and AJ’s New Year’s toast in the main event slot.||300,000 viewers with Kaitlyn/Eve Torres and a backstage segment with ADR and Ricardo||3.4, 3.64, 3.61/ 1.1, 1.2, 1.2||Round estimate numbers due to New Year’s delays/Among the lowest ratings of the last 15 years,|
|January 7th||3.15/4.44||887,000 with a Punk/Rock segment in the over run.||1, 037,00 viewers with Big Show vs. Kofi Kingston||4.29, 4.32, 4.75/ 1.51, 1.49, 1.7||Went up against the second most viewed show in cable history – the game did end in a blow-out however.|
|January 14th||3.19/4.54||509,000 Kaitlyn/Eve Torres and Ryback interview (this is no mix-up)||752,000 Daniel Bryan/Cody Rhodes & Big E and AJ backstage||4.5, 4.68, 4.47/ 1.6, 1.7, 1.7||Number one on cable with no football competition. Stable throughout the night.|
|January 21st||3.03/4.32||217,000 cluster of backstage segments involving CM Punk, AJ, Vince, Vickie and Ziggler.||406,000 Sheamus vs. Wade Barrett||4.37, 4.47, 4.17/ 1.47, 1.53, 1.48/ 1.862, 1.93, 1.867||Go-home show for the Royal Rumble.|
|January 28th||3.67/5.01||750,000 Vince McMahon/Heyman confrontation with Brock run-in||601,000 Sheamus/Sandow tables match and Khali, Ryder & 3MB backstage||4.86, 5.27, 4.93/ 1.79, 1.98, 1.91/2.260, 2.505, 2.146||Best rating and viewership since RAW 1000 at this point.|
|February 4th||3.54/4.8||600,000 Lesnar destroying Miz||683,000 Randy Orton/Wade Barrett||4.86, 4.86, 4.71/1.58, 1.68, 1.7/ 1.995, 2.129, 2.146||Another strong rating without Rock or the Rumble|
|February 11th||3.1/4.26||587,000 Rock/Punk confrontation||328,000 Mark Henry/Khali||4.35, 4.35, 4.18/1.5, 1.45, 1.47/1.896, 1.836, 1.864||Worst rating of 2013 so far|
|February 18th||3.28/4.66||773,000 Rock reveals new title and Cena/Punk stare down||393,000 Damien Sandow/Kofi Kingston||4.82, 4.67, 4.49/1.62, 1.56, 1.59/2.053, 1.979, 2.006||Post Elimination Chamber show|
|February 25th||3.43/4.7||1, 002,000 Cena/Punk match of the year candidate||450,000 Jack Swagger/Miz||4.87, 4.7, 4.7/1.71, 1.71, 1.75/2.16, 2.162, 2.22||Segment by segment are approximations.|
|March 4th||3.52, 5.01||855,000 Rock/Cena segment at 21:00||712,000 Jack Swagger attacking Slaughter, Rhodes and Duggan||4.97, 5.24, 4.85/1.69, 1.94, 1.86/2.132, 2.448, 2.358||Number one show for the night on cable.|
|March 11th||3.34/4.79||326,000 New Age Outlaws match leading into Heyman/Lesnar segment||359,000 Jericho/Miz match||4.98, 4.89, 4.57/1.7, 1.79, 1.69/2.236, 2.269, 2.144||Went up against the JR funeral on Dallas drawing around 3 million viewers|
|March 18th||3.08/4.25||494,000 Lesnar/Heyman/Triple H segment||302,000 Ziggler/Kingston match||4.25, 4.42, 4.11/1.5, 1.54, 1.47/1.901,1.954, 1.862||Went up against NBA game drawing around 3 million viewers|
|March 25th||3.21/4.61||615,000 John Cena/Rock debate||441,000 Jericho/Ziggler match||4.58, 4.89, 4.58/1.6, 1.76, 1.72/2.024, 2.227, 2.175||Number one show for the night|
|April 1st||3.1/4.31||599,000 Punk puring ashes on the Undertaker in the go-home segment||458,000 Barrett/Ryder match||4.031, 4.483, 4.402/1.39, 1.61, 1.57/1.754, 2.033, 1.991||WrestleMania go-home show.|
|April 8th||3.43/4.61||887,000 viewers Mark Henry/Cena and Ryback post-match following the major loss.||665,000 Rhodes Scholars & Bellas/Sweet T, Clay & Funkadactyles||4.49, 4.78, 4.56/1.51, 1.65, 1.69/1.908, 2.138, 2.099||Post-Mania RAW/ Identical rating to the previous year, lower viewership/ Went up against the NCAA Basketball final much like 2012|
|April 15th||3.0/4.38||647,000 Ryback and John Cena segment||397,000 Barrett/Truth title change||4.185, 4.236, 4.026/1.47, 1.58, 1.56/1.863, 2.004, 1.972||Lowest rated show since football season|
|April 22nd||3.13/4.4||548,000 Foley/Ryback/Cena/Shield confrontation||949,000 Fandango/William Regal and 996,000 with Clay, Truth & Kingston/Miz, Ziggler, Swagger||4.186, 4.654, 4.357/1.42, 1.67, 1.63/1.794, 2.11, 2.0599||Taped show from London|
|April 29th||3.06/4.28||513,000 The Shied/Ryback, Cena & Bryan||408,000 Cesaro/ADR||4.287, 4.311, 4.257/1.51, 1.68, 1.71/1.915, 1.915, 2,126||Went up against minor MLB and NBA games|
|May 6th||2.89/3.92||899,000 Paul Heyman & Lesnar destroy Hunter’s office||725,000 Orton/Sandow||3.966, 3.871, 3.908/1.34, 1.28, 1.43/1.707, 1.62, 1.81||New lowest rated show since football season. Went up against a strong NBA game|
|May 13th||2.92/4.05||623,000 The Shield/Cena & Team Hell No||274,000 Langston/Swagger||3.793, 4.098, 4.25/1.27, 1.46, 1.58/1.608, 1.841, 2.004||Extreme Rules go-home|
|May 20th||2.97/4.23||551,000 Triple H/Curtis Axel over run||360,000 Miz & Jericho versus Fandango & Barrett||4.08, 4.3, 4.31/1.32, 1.43, 1.62/1.667, 1.806, 2.047||Show after the Extreme Rules|
|May 27th||2.8/3.94||627,000 Cena/Axel||421,000 Natalya & Kaitlyn vs. Bellas||3.99, 3.95, 3.98/1.2, 1.2, 1.3/*||Memorial Day|
|June 3rd||2.6/3.68||463,000 Ryback/Bryan||450,000 Prime Time Players/Usos||3.62, 3.62, 3.8/1.2, 1.2, 1.3/*||They went up against the NBA finals which drew 11.57 million viewers. The show opened with a 2.72|
|June 10th||3.04/3.99||521,000 Triple H/Vince hug and Cena/Ryback pull apart||362,000 Damien Sandow/R-Truth||3.89, 4.09, 3.99/1.3, 1.4, 1.4||–|
|June 17th||3.05/4.15||738,000 Mark Henry/Cena in-ring with Henry fake retiring||953,000 Heath Slater versus Jericho and Henry backstage||4.027, 4.264, 4.172/1.39, 1.54, 1.49/ 1.762, 1.949, 1.882||Post-Payback show|
|June 24th||2.89/3.98||361,000 WWE 2K14 game cover reveal with Ricardo, Jericho and Ziggler||598,000 CM Punk/ Darren Young||3.73, 4.287, 3.91/1.3, 1.4, 1.3/*||–|
|July 1st||2.89/3.96||567,000 John Cena/Alberto Del Rio||123,000 Stephanie McMahon segment and Kaitlyn/Alicia Fox||3.72, 4.14, 4.01/1.2, 1.3, 1.4/1.497, 1.672, 1.775||–|
|July 8th||3.1/4.17||553,000 Vickie Guerrero job evaluation||736,000 Kane/Christian match||3.79, 4.31, 4.4/1.4, 1.6, 1.6/1.721, 2.028, 2.084||Orton/Punk gained 48,000 in the over run|
|July 15th||4.05/4.11||669,000 Cena choosing Bryan for a title shot.||253,000 Damien Sandow/Christian match||3.93, 4.11, 4.27/1.5, 1.6, 1.6/1.859, 1.968, 2.035||Went up against the home-run derby, which drew around 6.65 million viewers|
|July 22nd||2.95/4.0||373,000 Dolf Ziggler/Darren Young||295,000 Jack Swagger/Daniel Bryan||3.92, 4.16, 3.93/1.3, 1.4, 1.4/1.609, 1.781, 1.779||–|
|July 29th||2.9/3.77||769,000 Cena/Ryback tables match after heavy losses||409,000 The Shield vs. Usos & Henry after weak opening||3.66, 3.9, 3.75/1.21, 1.29, 1.26/1.536, 1.632, 1.599||Show started very low at a 2.87|
|August 5th||2.96/4.18||700,000 Bryan/Orton match in the main event||280,000 Wyatt Family debut against T & Clay||3.97, 4.38, 4.18/1.4, 1.54, 1.45/1.771, 1.954, 1.836||Best viewers per home since May 20th / Rough estimates in segment by segment|
|August 12th||2.95/4.13||560,000 Vince, Maddox & HHH choosing Summer Slam referee & Cena/Bryan promo spot also gained 560,000 later on||300,000 Alberto Del Rio/Kofi Kingston match||3.74, 4.27, 4.32/1.24, 1.53, 1.64/1.579, 1.934, 2.055||Opening with Bryan vs. Barrett opened at super low 2.6|
|August 19th||3.24/4.3||670,000 Bryan face-off with Orton, McMahons and the Shield||550,000 Wyatt/Truth match||4.08, 4.49, 4.33/1.35, 1.61, 1.69/ 1.711, 2.036, 2.132||Post-Summer Slam show/ Cena, Stephanie, Bryan opening opened at strong 3.4|
|August 26th||3.07/4.19||1,092,000 Bryan Shield beatdown||140,000 Randy Orton/Christian||4.129, 4.291, 4.151/1.43, 1.5, 1.56/1.815, 1.903, 1.982||Claimed the top 3 spots for the day in 18-49 demo.|
|September 2nd||2.9/3.94||553,000 Randy Orton/Cody Rhodes with Rhodes’ job on the line & 550,000 Daniel Bryan/Big Show||400,000 Naomi/Brie Bella match||3.69, 4.146, 3.974/1.41, 1.55, 1.7/1.784, 1.973, ?||Went up against college football and a strongly viewed comedy roast/Labour Day|
Unfortunately, at this point in the year segment by segment gains and loses became very difficult to find, even in the Observer, so from September 9th to the December 16th show there will be no segment by segment data. I have attempted to contact Nielson, but considering the holiday delays, and the amount of queries they must get on a daily basis we will probably be waiting quite some time for a response.
|Date||Rating/Viewership||Hourly viewership in millions/18-49 rating hour 1, 2, 3/viewership 1,2,3 in million viewers where applicable.||Notes|
|September 9th||2.91/3.98||3.801, 3.903, 3.953/1.27, 1.33, 1.44/1.615, 1.685, 1.83||Went up against the strongest NFL season opener in years|
|September 16th||2.96/4.01||3.865, 4.162, 4.012/ 1.31, 1.45, 1.54/1.664, 1.842, 1.956||Post-Night of Champions show|
|September 23rd||2.81/3.739||3.603, 3.795, 3.82/1.22,1.27,1.39/1.549, 1.613, 1.765||Went up against a Broncos/Raiders game that drew13.92 million viewers|
|September 30th||2.68/3.583||3.605, 3.53, 3.616/1.3,1.3,1.4/1.6, 1.664, 1.740/||Fifth lowest rating since 1997|
|October 7th||2.65/3.706||3.694, 3.739, 3.685/1.3, 1.3, 1.4/1.638, 1.753, 1.715||Fourth lowest viewed show in 15 years up until this point/ Went up against two baseball play-offs and football/Post-Battleground show|
|October 14th||2.88/3.99||4.11,4.15,3.72/1.4,1.4,1.5/1.846, 1.861, 1.738||–|
|October 21st||2.71/3.82||3.914, 3.802, 3.759/1.3, 1.3, 1.4/1.702, 1.628, 1.797||In the bottom ten lowest rated shows of the last 15 years at this point according to the Observer.|
|October 28th||2.98/4.15||4.315,4.185,3.965/1.4, 1.4, 1.5/1.849, 1.837, 1.776||Featured the return of Cena to RAW/Post-Hell in a Cell|
|November 4th||2.75/3.887||4.069, 3.951, 3.463/ 1.4, 1.3, 1.4/1.834, 1.803, 1.679||Went up against Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers game that drew 16.1 million viewers|
|November 11th||2.73/3.77||3.87,3.83,3.6/1.3,1.3,1.3/1.672,1.668, 1.689||Went up against a weak football game in the Miami Dolphins/Tampa Bay drawing 10.95 million|
|November 18th||2.73/3.8||3.77, 3.97, 3.67/1.4, 1.4, 1.3/ 1.737, 1.83, 1.669||RAW country that went up against Patriots/Panthers game that drew 15.77 million viewers|
|November 25th||2.93/4.12||4.32, 4.29, 3.8/1.5, 1.5, 1.3/1.898, 1.938, 1.697||Post-Survivor Series show|
|December 2nd||2.7/3.53||3.616, 3.560, 3.447/1.24, 1.26, 1.27/1.547, 1.598, 1.61||Went up against the Sea-hawks/Saints game drawing 15.5 million viewers|
|December 9th||2.7/4.15||4.22, 4.18, 4.06/ 1.49, 1.49, 1.56/1.896, 1.894, 1.984||Went up against Cowboys/Cubs game drawing 16.19 million viewers|
|December 16th||2.95/4.2||4.42, 4.3, 3.89/1.58,1.51,1.4/2.0, 1.921,1.777||Night after TLC|
2013 WRESTLING OBSERVER AWARDS with Ryan Clingman
“CATEGORY A” AWARDS. PICK A FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD PLACE FINISHER IN EACH CATEGORY. POINTS WILL BE AWARDED ON A 5-3-2 BASIS. THE WINNER OF THE AWARD IS DETERMINED BY TOTAL POINTS.
1. LOU THESZ/RIC FLAIR AWARD
Of all the Observer Awards, the Thesz/Flair award, basically pro-wrestling’s equivalent to an MVP award, is far in away the most prestigious, maybe even more so than the match of the year award. You don’t have to look much further than this year’s Observer Hall of Fame class, with Tanahashi and his MVP award last year contributing greatly to the influx of support he saw in 2013. It’s always an interesting award to debate about, as not only is a worker’s worth and drawing power for a promotion(s) factored in, but so is work and in some cases talking ability. This makes argueing for and against certain people a precise juggling act.
I have seen many ballots this year listing John Cena as their number one choice for the award, and whilst he was still the number one star for WWE this year in terms of being a face of the company, PPV and ratings draws, I think that people overestimate exactly how much he did in 2013. He was a consistent ratings draw as he has been in the past, but not a definitive first choice in that category. He had a few great matches this year, but fewer than in past years and an incomparable amount when looking at my first and second place choices, as well as the honourable mentions. He was better than he has been in quite some time on promos this year too, delivering some of his best work, although he was far from consistent. He also drew nicely on PPV, and as we saw when he was out with a triceps tear post-Summer Slam, buyrates did fall from there. It’s difficult to ascertain whether or not the drop-off was as a result of Cena’s absence, bad creative direction, or a mixture of both, but there was a drop of some kind with Cena not in the top picture. Ergo, whilst Cena placed well in most categories, he didn’t stand out in my view as the MVP candidate that many others saw him as this year.
Last year I was faced with a difficult decision in a choice between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi as Wrestler of the Year – after weeks of mental debate I decided to go with Tanahashi, and I in no way regretted that decision. This year the choice became even tougher, as both Tanahashi and Okada upped their games to an extent barely thought possible last year. Tanahashi had an outstanding year with New Japan continuing its assent following their fantastic 2012 spearheaded by Tanahashi. Okada did the same when elevated to true main event stature after winning the 2012 G1, main eventing the Tokyo Dome show and finally reclaiming the IWGP Heavyweight title in April at Invasion attack. The two also performed in a stand out in-ring program producing four of the best matches of the entire year in my view.
Tanahashi when unpaired with Okada performed in a couple more match of the year level showcases with the likes of Tomohiro Ishii and Karl Anderson. Okada also performed in some of the most underrated New Japan matches of the year against the likes of Minoru Suzuki and Togi Makabe (at the G1 and defending the IWGP title). Many will credit the surge in New Japan’s business to Tanahashi, but the man to figure head the majority of the major pay-per-views this year was Okada, on top and performing at a similar calibre to Tanahashi in the same role; at the age of 26 no less. With support from Tanahashi and others on the under card he was able to carry the majority of the company’s major shows without any sign of backlash – the local New Japan fan base views Okada as Tanahashi’s equal. It takes an extraordinary talent to be able to transition into the position in the way that he has done this year, and it is a talent of that calibre that is deserving of winning the Thesz/Flair award.
If Okada wins the award it will make him the second youngest in history behind Mistico.
1. Kazuchika Okada
2. Hiroshi Tanahashi
3. John Cena
Honourable Mentions: KENTA, Daniel Bryan
2. MMA MOST VALUABLE FIGHTER:
This is a pro-wrestling newsletter, and given my knowledge of MMA compared to so many others covering these awards I will keep things brief. As a quick run-down I believe that George St. Pierre as far as being a top level MMA fighter goes, including in the realm of drawing power, superstar presence and of course fighting ability, was the best MMA fighter in the world in 2013. Cain and Jon Jones were also top notch this year, but with Anderson Silva being defeated and GSP defeating both Hendricks and Diaz in top drawing fights he was MMA’s MVP for 2013.
1. George St. Pierre
2. Cain Velásquez
3. Jon Jones
3. MOST OUTSTANDING WRESTLER:
Even more so than wrestler of the year this was one of the most difficult award on the entire ballot to decide upon this year. There were so many great matches, more than in any single year that I can remember as a fan (1989 and 1994 were up there, but I was too young/busy being not born, to have experienced it first hand), and with great matches come great wrestlers (most of the time). Originally I had Shinsuke Nakamura in the top three, and Okada in as an honourable mention. However, when cycling through my top twenty matches of the year it became very difficult to justify Nakamura’s case without strengthening that of Okada. Tanahashi was the best worker on Earth this year in my mind, and therefore the first place spot was easy to name, but two and three were switched out numerous times.
I have switched between Okada and Ishii in the second and third places, as both have had incredible runs in 2013 New Japan. But, when looking at the amount of matches in the top twenty, Okada does beat Ishii out by a couple of matches. Ishii did deliver a classic match with Masato Tanaka this year, as well as a great match with Minoru Suzuki. However, his match with Tanahashi whilst breaking the classic barrier, still weren’t as good as some of the best Okada/Tanahashi matches of this year.
Tanahashi goes over both men, as pretty much everything he did in-ring this year was golden, and if he was placed in a main event, or even semi-mainevent spot, he shined brighter than pretty much anyone else in the company. That isn’t to take anything away from Okada, because as we discussed in the Wrestler of the Year section, I believe that as far as being a main event talent goes he was better than Tanahashi. But, when looking at their G1 runs side by side, Tanahashi had the better year, if only by a slight margin. With that being said, I believe that if given the same opportunities to work in main event spots (not that he should be from a business perspective), Ishii would have performed just as well, if not better than both men. Like Daniel Bryan who also had a great year, Ishii didn’t produce the same volume, regardless of position on the card, and it is for that reason that Tanahashi and Okada have been placed above him.
1. Hiroshi Tanahashi
2. Kazuchika Okada
3. Tomohiro Ishii
Honourable Mentions: Shinsuke Nakamura, Katsuyori Shibata, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk
4. MOST OUTSTANDING FIGHTER:
As far as defeating top notch competition goes Cain was the best fighter in the world this year with decisive wins over Bigfoot Silva, and the second best heavyweight in the world, JDS. Aldo also had a very impressive year, although he wasn’t up against the level of competition as Cain in his fight against the Korean Zombie. Jones remained impressive, but while Chael Sonnen remains my favourite fighter in all of MMA that fight didn’t feel like a number one versus number two fight, or even a number one versus number four fight, so he does drop in that regard.
1. Cain Velasquez
2. Jose Aldo
3. Jon Jones
5. BEST BOX OFFICE DRAW
Whilst this is a pro-wrestling newsletter I would be amiss if I didn’t place GSP at the top of my list as the best box office draw of 2013. Of all the awards this year it was the one that I found most difficult, ironic given the fact that it is perhaps the most objective award of the entire ballot. What makes the award so difficult to decide upon is gauging the importance of one metric over another. Pay-per-view is a greatly important metric for the UFC, and as far as being a PPV draw goes GSP was far and away the best draw not only for MMA, but for combat sports entertainment as a whole. When looking at WWE B-show buy-rates, they are pretty difficult to change, but with that being said Cena did seem to elevate the buy-rates of the shows that he was on following his injury, if only be a small margin. While not the best TV draw he was certainly towards the top. In the end I placed Cena above Okada, not because I thought that he meant more for his promotion, but more due to the fact that in-terms of money brought in Cena drew more. Whether that is the correct method to gauge candidates for this award I do not know.
1. George St. Pierre
2. John Cena
3. Kazuchika Okada
6. FEUD OF THE YEAR
The number one spot for this award was exceptionally clear from August onwards. As far as WWE and TNA went, 2013 was a mediocre year for great feuds, some would even say that it was below that level. However, in New Japan Tanahashi and Okada cemented their rivalry as the best in the world for a second straight year. I can’t think of any pair in the last five years or so to produce as many quality matches on a consistent basis than these two, with the only couple even coming close being John Cena and CM Punk who also seem to be a magic pairing (one that doesn’t seem to get enough credit a lot of the time). This was not a blood feud of any sort, nor is it even on the level of a Misawa/Kawada type feud when gauging raw emotion. Tanahashi and Okada are simply two men fighting over the most prestigious prize in the promotion and in 2013 that is still very much a winning formula.
What was closer to the blood feud of the spectrum, was the Hirooki Goto/Katsuyori Shibata feud that ran throughout 2013. New Japan did as good of a job as any this year in relaying the history between former school friends to the audience in a series of very well produced video packages. They had multiple double knock-down finishes this year before coming back with one of the best and most heated matches of the year on June 22nd at the Dominion show. They did over book the program in that they had one more match after that climax point, one that even in the most optimistic eyes couldn’t have lived up to what should have been their final match. They were set to face a second time after the post-Dominion rematch, this time within the confines of the G1 Climax tournament, but once Goto broke his jaw earlier on in the tournament that match never transpired.
I originally had the Shield/Daniel Bryan program as a whole as a my third pick, but I decided to switch it out with the Lesnar/Punk feud for two reasons. The first is that if I were to include the Bryan/Shield program on my ballot, that would also include their work with Bryan during the Authority angle. There is also the issue of bad booking, with both Bryan and the Shield at times being mishandled even after delivering great six-man after great six-man on a weekly basis. The second reason is that as a stand alone feud, with promos and build factored in, for my tastes, Punk/Lesnar was the better of the two; even if they did only have one match in the end. Paul Heyman and Punk had some of the best verbal duels of the entire year, while Punk and Lesnar had one of the best WWE matches at the same time. The one issue is that they did only have one match, but the build to the match and the match itself were good enough to position it in the third spot.
1. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
2. Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata
3. CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar
Honourable Mentions: Daniel Bryan vs. The Shield, Suzuki-gun vs. CHAOS, CM Punk vs. The Rock
7. TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR
Over the past couple of years I have had to preface my choices for this award with a slightly depressing anecdote stating jow terrible the year was for tag team wrestling – thankfully that isn’t the case in 2013, not by a long-shot. As unlikely as it may have seemed at the end of 2012, 2013 has been somewhat of a rebuilding year for the WWE’s tag division, which has been seen as a welcome change from the joke that the division has been for the past five years plus.
That movement was very much spearheaded, by one of my favourite acts of the entire year, the Shield. By being introduced as a main event trio, and being kept at that level for the entire year they were seen as big stars in two months or so – a novel idea indeed. I would like to have the Shield on my ballot as a trio, but according to others that have contacted Dave “The Shield” will me interpreted as “Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns”, a shame considering how important Ambrose was in the movement this year.
The Rhodes Brothers may very well have overtaken the Shield in the first place spot on my ballot had the team not been formed within the last few months of 2013. When it comes to working as the traditional Southern babyface team, the Rhodes Brothers are the best that I have seen in years. Goldust has been an integral part of that quality, working as a masterful babyface in peril, as well as being able to ignite seemingly any crowd off of the hot tag.
I don’t think that many people realize how good the Killer Elite Squad have become, not because they don’t have the exposure being in New Japan, but rather as a result of a lack of quality competition. The majority of their matches this year have been with an ageing team in the form of TenCozy or a gimmick team in Yano & Iizuka. They had a slight run in multiple tag-team matches, but even then they were in the minority as a consistently good team. And when they did have a chance to work with a great working team like Nakamura & Ishii, they tore the house down. If New Japan is able to rebuild their tag team division in 2014, expect KES to pick-up on the radar of many next year.
1. The Shield
2. Cody Rhodes & Goldust
3. Killer Elite Squad
Honourable Mentions: Usos, Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls, Nakamura & Ishii (didn’t team often enough)
8. MOST IMPROVED
Roman Reigns went from being a pretty green guy with a good look and some star presence, to a good worker with tremendous presence, and some great instincts. Recalling when the Shield initially debuted, I was actually pretty disappointed to see Reigns as a member of the group. It seemed silly to have a very green football player in there with Jon Moxley and Tyler Black when they had people like Hero in developmental that in my mind seemed like a perfect fit – boy was I wrong. You see, I was missing the entire premise of the group. They weren’t supposed to be group comprised over very similar stars placed into a group in some random manner – and Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns in particular had me catch on fast.
I expected great things from Ambrose and Rollins, but I couldn’t envision Reigns bringing so much to a team such as the Shield. But with Ambrose as the key talker (although Rollins has become good as well over the course of 2013), Rollins as the bumper, flyer and workhorse, and Reigns as the power they became one of the best acts of the year, and without Reigns coming into his own in the way that he did, I doubt that would have been possible.
Tomohiro Ishii had an interesting year, as it was certainly better in-ring than in 2012, but with that being said it is very difficult to ascertain whether or not that was due to improvements in the ring, or because he had greater exposure and more time in 2013. However, despite that ambiguity, I feel that at the very least Ishii was able to sustain and thrive over a very sudden move up the card, where his in-ring performances got progressively each time he was given a chance to demonstrate exactly what he has. And I believe that to be enough to grant Ishii a spot at number two.
As far as Okada goes, while already being an outstanding worker heading into 2011, he progressed to new heights in 2013. His selling in particular grew tremendously, as his Tokyo Dome match with Okada watched side by side to his King of Pro-Wrestling match can confirm.
1. Roman Reigns
2. Tomohiro Ishii
3. Kazuchika Okada
Honourable Mentions: Seth Rollins, Kota Ibushi, Antonio Cesaro, Goldust, Dean Ambrose, Mikey Nicholls, Shane Haste
9. BEST ON INTERVIEWS
As far as promos go 2013 was lacking when compared to 2012 and 2011. While 2012 was filled with some of Punk’s best work as champion, which followed on from 2011, and also harboured Kevin Steen’s run as the indies’ hottest name, lack of solid creative on the part of major North American promotions left us with a rather lackluster year in the realm of promos. That isn’t to say that some didn’t succeed with what they were given, as Punk was able to perform at the very top level alongside the Rock in year’s opening months, and was able to up his game even further when placed against Paul Heyman in verbal duels. As far as diversity and consistency go Punk was at the top of the promo world with few being able to attain a level even remotely close.
The reasons for Rock being omitted from my ballot are two fold. The first is that he lacked the volume of work of a Punk or even a Paul Heyman, despite performing at a higher level and for a longer period of time than in years past. The second reason dawned on me when observing him in the same ring as CM Punk, who along with Dean Ambrose are on the cutting edge of promo work. Rock however is not in that realm, sticking with a very 90s centric style that without his incredible charisma and delivery would fail to get over in 2013. I am in no way stating that older promo concepts can’t be transported into 2013, as we saw with Dusty Rhodes and company it certainly can. However, the late 90s style of promo as a shorter shelf life than most, and without a revamp in delivery Rock couldn’t score high on my ballot.
Much like Tomohiro Ishii in other categories, if Ambrose was given the time to walk out and cut five minute long promos, there are few doubts in my mind that he could have performed at an elite level along with Punk. However, with all fairness Heyman delivered longer more impactful promos because he was given the opportunity, and as some of his battles with Punk can attest he is far from dated in 2013.
1. CM Punk
2. Paul Heyman
3. Dean Ambrose
Honourable Mentions: Dean Ambrose, Gedo
10. MOST CHARISMATIC
Some may be perplexed by my list, particularly by the fact that Okada was placed in the second spot, but I can assure you that it was done so only after thought and consideration. The visible charisma is at least there with Nakamura, in fact it seems to seep from his pours at points (tacos!), which is actually quite the amazing turn around from the new King of Strong style gimmick that he had a few years back. Regardless, as far as connecting with a crowd goes he was as good of a performer as any this year.
As I mentioned, Nakamura has the visible signs of charisma, he is loud, flamboyant and expressive, that is not the case with Okada. You see, Okada has a very unique kind of charisma that may seem alien to many unfamiliar with Japanese pro-wrestling. It is a stoic charisma that can be seen in the likes of Misawa and Choshu that may translate as dry to North American fans, but means the world as a puroresu star – and Okada certainly had oodles of that uniquely Japanese charisma earning him self a spot at number two.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura
2. Kazuchika Okada
3. Daniel Bryan
Honourable Mentions: Hiroshi Tanahashi, CM Punk, Dean Ambrose
11. BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER
The best technical award has been a very strange one over the course of the last four years or so, as despite Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan not working a technical style he is still wins the award by default. He has won the award so many times that it would be very surprising if the award is not named after him once he retires or begins to slow down one day. However, I don’t believe, even if the quality of “technical” wrestling has dropped over the last few years, that he should win the award this year. Sure, he works a very crisp work-rate driven style, but “technical” is no longer the word that comes to mind when thinking of Bryan and his in-ring escapades.
Even after stating all of this I still feel, like most years, that I am making the wrong decision no matter what. As I don’t keep up with Lucha as much as a I should, and when it comes to mat work and technical wrestling, with the British style dying off, Mexico is where all of the action in that field lies at the moment.
Still, from what I have seen, and that is mostly puro and WWE/TNA, this year I will have to go with Nakamura for most technical. At a glance Nakamura seems pretty alien to the award, but when factoring in his outstanding mat based work with Sakuraba and Suzuki, as well as some precision vital spots like in his matches with Ibushi I can’t think of many others who showcased as much technical brilliance in 2013 than Nakamura.
Cesaro as far as ring work and technical aspects go was amazingly sound this year, but wasn’t given the same amount of unique showcases as Nakamura and even in great matches with Sami Zayn was limited somewhat by the WWE box, unlike Ishii.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura
2. Antonio Cesaro
12. BRUISER BRODY MEMORIAL AWARD
2013 was a pretty good year for fans of brawling. While we weren’t given many hardcore rules style matches that really tore the house down, as far as Frye/Takayama style matches went we got plenty. Katsuyori Shibata was at the forefront with pre-match, post-match and in-match brawls with the likes of Ishii and Goto that at times were a little too real. Ishii followed with some of the best matches of the year with Masato Tanaka and Shibata, as well as some great post tag match brawls with the likes of Suzuki and Ibushi later on in the year.
The reason that I chose Ishii over Lesnar, despite Lesnar better performances than Ishii in brawls leading up to big matches,Ishii was by far the better of the two as an in-ring brawler.
1. Katsuyori Shibata
2. Tomohiro Ishii
3. Brock Lesnar
Honourable Mentions: Minoru Suzuki
13. BEST FLYING WRESTLER
Every year I try to choose workers that aren’t just capable of doing all the pretty flips for this award, but ones that are able to incorporate those flips into logical matches. In the past I felt that Ibushi wasn’t able to conduct the music between the notes, and was more of a flip machine than anything else. However, this year I have sensed a definite change in the way that Ibushi has performed in the majority of his major matches. As his match with Okada will attest he still has a ways to go, but seeing how he worked with guys like Nakamura, Suzuki and Nagata in the G1, and how he incorporated flying moves into those matches makes him my choice as the best flying wrestler of the year.
1. Kota Ibushi
3. La Sombra
14. MOST OVERRATED
This was a very easy award to decide upon this year given the amount of undue time that the Authority has had on TV making many of their top babyfaces look stupid and taking away from what could have been a very hot few months with Bryan on top. Meanwhile TNA was experiencing close to the same issues with Dixie Carter, as she attempted to mimic the heel authority figure played by Hunter & Stephanie. What made matters worse in her case is that she is quite inept as an on-screen performer, which brings the product as a whole down by a great degree.
1. Triple H
2. Stephanie McMahon
3. Dixie Carter
15. MOST UNDERRATED
Despite having so many of the attributes of a top TV wrestling star in 2013 from star presence, look and size to working ability and instincts, and remaining more over than his push, Cesaro still remains one of the most underutilized performers in the WWE. He is very much ready at this point to be moved away from Jack Swagger, even if they are attempting to rebuild the tag division, and placed in the main event title picture following a strong midcard program.
Chris Hero, Kassius Ohno, was released from his developmental deal in the later stages of this year after consistently performing as one of the best in-ring talents in developmental with decent talking ability and strong presence. This was a real shame considering exactly how much Hero had to give as a mid-carder or higher on TV. Yet, for whatever reason he was over looked.
1. Antonio Cesaro
2. Chris Hero
3. Tomohiro Ishii
Honourable Mentions: Tyson Kidd
16. PROMOTION OF THE YEAR
My impetus for choosing New Japan as the best promotion of the entire year is very similar to my reasoning from last year. And that is whilst WWE was the most financially successful company by many light years in 2013 it was in no way the best creatively, at least not for my tastes. They didn’t exemplify what a pro-wrestling company should be in the year of 2013, and voting a company, whose product I didn’t enjoy for close to half of the year the first, second or even third best promotion of the year seems like a distinct contradiction to me.
The choice for choosing New Japan is obvious, as they were not only the most financially successful company outside of the WWE this year, surviving on nothing more than their brand of wrestling and that alone. They were also one of the best promotions that I have ever seen from an artistic standpoint. If I had followed Dragon Gate more this year there is a strong possibility that they would have been placed in the second spot, but in all fairness that wouldn’t really feel like the right thing to do.
So, instead of leaving two open slots, I decided to add the promotion that was able to recover in a way few thought possibly a year ago — with that promotion being Pro-Wrestling NOAH. They couldn’t compete with New Japan as a Japanese pro-wrestling power house in terms of work or profitability. However, they made more of what they had putting on good shows and the occasional stellar match while regenerating large portions of their attendance figures. And this is a feat that I don’t believe NOAH is credited enough for. It is a tough environment for any company other than the WWE in 2013, let alone a distant third/fourth (depending on where you rank Wrestle-1) in Japan, so to see them rise like they did deserves a second place vote in my book.
1. New Japan Pro-Wrestling
2. Pro-Wrestling NOAH
17. BEST WEEKLY TV SHOW
Year on year the award for best television show becomes progressively more difficult of an award to vote for. This unfortunately isn’t a consequence of their being too many good wrestling television shows out there, but the opposite — there seem to be no consistently good to great television shows throughout the year. Sure, I could vote for RAW, but on principle I can’t, as a large portion of its TV time this year was comprised of convoluted and often times straight up bad wrestling story telling. Impact has been less than mediocre, I haven’t seen as much ROH as I should have, although from what I have seen it doesn’t seem to be the greatest show in existence. And then there is NXT. It is a show that I have seen a decent amount of this year. It isn’t a tremendous show week in and week out, but it is almost always logically progressed from week to week, the wrestling is good and the Full Sail crowd is hot. Therefore NXT seems to be the only choice available to me this year, and there it will stand.
1. WWE NXT
18. PRO WRESTLING MATCH OF THE YEAR
We covered the majority of this award earlier on in the issue, but as a quick rundown, I chose Okada/Tanahashi from Invasion Attack as the best match of the entire year, not because it had the best crowd reactions. Because it didn’t. Not because it had the best work exhibited by the pair this year. Because it didn’t. But, because it exhibited all of those things along with the special importance that was granted to it by the presence of the IWGP Heavyweight title at stake that make it the best match of the entire year.
1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi Invasion Attack 04/07
2. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii G1 Day 08/04
3. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi King of Pro-Wrestling 10/14
Honourable Mentions: See list earlier on in the issue.
19. MMA MATCH OF THE YEAR
This year there were quite a few fights that had me jumping out of my lazy boy squealing with glee throwing my hands in the air. Jones and Gustafsson performed what would be the equivalent of a sound pro-wrestling main event, only a few steps below Condit and GSP last year. Condit and Hendrix went for 15 minutes in the best action fight of the year. However, the single best MMA fight that I saw this year was Diego Sanchez vs. Mark Munoz without a doubt. Out of all the fights I saw this year, even more than the Bigfoot/Hunt fight that fell outside of the Observer calender, this fight told the best “story” that I have seen out of any fight in a very long time. Sanchez was the ultimate babyface going in there following two losses in the first and second round, with blood dripping down his chest, and with his corner in his ear yelling “don’t let him take the food out of your daughter’s mouth” and putting on a phenomenal final round performance.
1. Diego Sanchez vs. Mark Munoz, October 19th, Houston Texas
2. Carlos Condit vs. Jonny Hendrix, March 16th, Montreal Quebec
3. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson, September 21st, Toronto Ontario
20. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
I usually struggle with this award as I find the criteria very tough seeing as how it is usually pretty difficult to really judge workers a couple of years in. But, New Japan made things easier this year with Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu acting as the best Young Lions for their experience level in quite some time. Sho Tanaka in particular, along with Takahashi and Watanabe have very bright futures with the company.
1. Sho Tanaka
2. Yohei Komatsu
21. BEST NON-WRESTLER PERFORMER
Last year I had Gedo as my number one choice for this award by helping Okada along at a time where he really couldn’t have gotten as over as he did on his own. However, this year Okada was slightly more independent allowing for Gedo to step back to some degree while still remaining a strong and important fixture of the rainmaker act. Heyman however was far more engaged with CM Punk this year both as a manger, and as an antagonist. Heyman was in so many ways the old-school heel manager for Brock Lesnar, but with Heyman’s subtleties, talking ability and mind for the business he was able bring that kind of act into 2013 where it was in some ways unfamiliar and made it work with Punk. In fact, I believe one of his promo battles with CM Punk to be the best of Punk’s career and that was in large part due to Heyman.
As far as Colter goes, he was very good in is gimmick heavy role as the uber right ring anti-immigration character. However, as a speaker and a main fixture in the company he wasn’t on the level of Heyman and Gedo, nor was he placed in the position to do so.
1. Paul Heyman
3. Zeb Colter
22. BEST TELEVISION ANNOUNCER
Unfortunately with the absence of JR on commentary, it is become more difficult year on year to find a winner for this awar. From what I saw of the NXT show this year William Regal was that guy, but even then unlike JR in past years, and Nigel Nigel McGuinness last year, there were no amazing moments immortalized by his voice. I am sure that if he was brought up to TV that he would have produced some, but down in developmental in the limited role that he is in. He simply hasn’t had the opportunity to, and that’s sad. I was going to actually have New Japan’s Nogami up for first or second place for this award, but from what I can understand he isn’t viewed as a blow-away commentator in Japan, and apart from his enthusiasm I can’t make any meaningful comment to the contrary. So, as sad as it may seem William Regal remains as the only announcer for this category – no offence to William Regal.
1. William Regal
23. WORST TELEVISION ANNOUNCER
Unlike the best announcer award, it was pretty easy to choose a worst for the year, which makes the entire announcing situation in pro-wrestling even more depressing. The reason that I have JBL above Taz is that whilst Taz doesn’t care making the TNA product feel less important, he doesn’t have Vince McMahon in his ear, which for JBL is a major problem. A few years ago when JBL was on commentary I had no issue with him, and there are times when I really enjoy his work, but Cole’s old voice has unfortunately been placed in JBL’s body
24. BEST MAJOR SHOW
2013 housed not only two of the best shows of the last few years, but two of the best shows that I have ever seen period. Those two shows were the fourth night of the G1 from Osaka, and the Tokyo Dome show on January 4th. Which one you prefer honestly comes down to what you want out of your wrestling shows. If you are looking for diversity and big show atmosphere it was the Dome with a live performance of Minoru Suzuki’s theme song, ‘Kaze ni Nare’, the grandeur of the second biggest wrestling crowd of the year, and four **** ¼ + matches. If you were looking for pure work, well then the fourth night of the G1 was your show with a Frye/Takayama style match with Ishii/Shibata, a multi-style fusion classic with Nakamura/Ibushi and an abridged IWGP heavyweight title match with Togi Makabe/Kazuchika Okada.
I favoured the 4th night of the G1 ever so slightly, but on a given day I could easily change my mind to the Tokyo Dome show and then back again; these shows were that good.
1. G1 Climax Night 4 August 4th Osaka Bodmaker Colosseum
2. WrestleKingdom 7 January 4th Tokyo Dome
3. Invasion Attack April 7th Sumo Hall
“CATEGORY B” AWARDS. PICK ONE IN EACH CATEGORY. WINNER CHOSEN ON THE BASIS OF FIRST PLACE VOTES.
1. WORST MAJOR SHOW OF THE YEAR
WWE were the inverse of New Japan this year in the PPV department, as they put on one of the worst strings of PPVs over the last few years. Hell in a Cell, Night of Champions, Battleground or Survivor Series could have won this award. In the beginning I was leaning towards Survivor Series, aseptically given how the Big Show/Orton was one of the worst WWE main events in recent memory, but when looking back at Battleground and the anger that followed over the non-finish with the Big Show and where that led the Daniel Bryan angle earn Battleground it’s spot as rightful loser.
2. BEST WRESTLING MANEUVER
I originally had Antonio Cesaro and his giant swing as the match of the year, however, when contemplating the award and what it means to a further degree I changed my mind. It may be an easier move to execute as opposed to a prolonged giant swing, but Okada’s rainmaker has maintained its status as one of the most over moves in all of pro-wrestling this year. With the amount of great matches centred around the move, and the manner in which it is protected still, coupled with the mixed reactions garnered by the giant swing brings the award to Okada’s hands once again, at least in my view.
-Kazuchika Okada’s Rainmaker Lariat
3. MOST DISGUSTING PROMOTIONAL TACTIC
The most disgusting promotional tactic award is somewhat of a mixed bag, some years there are promotions committing dastardly deeds across the globe. Where as other years the worst promotional tactic is relegated to minor annoyances, irritations and pet peeves. I don’t find the incident that I chose this year to necessarily fit the later statement, but apart from the Paul Bearer urn angle there is nothing that I would call “disgusting”. I heard the case for the Chikara closing angle, but I would call that angle sheer lunacy not disgusting.
Leading into WrestleMania 29, the closing segment of the RAW go-home show, after weeks of incorporating the real life death of Paul Bearer into their wacky angle, CM Punk proceeded to pour Bearer’s “ashes” over himself and the Undertaker as the show went off the air. From what I read at the time Moody’s sons seemed speechless at the incident as they were at RAW live and were left uninformed going in, which is to me the most insulting aspect of the entire ordeal. It’s one thing to incorporate a recently deceased person into a wrestling angle, especially when they loved the business as much as Pringle did, it is another to do so in such poor taste.
–CM Punk pouring Paul Bearer’s ashes over Undertaker
4. WORST TELEVISION SHOW
I consider myself a hardcore fan of pro-wrestling in general, and as such pretty hard to drive off with bad angles and booking. However, after weeks of mediocre or worse television shows with the same tried concepts throughout the year. I, as the writer of the Impact reports gave up on the product. It isn’t that the show is terrible every week, but at least with RAW, which certainly has its ups and downs, we get good to great matches on a regular basis, something that isn’t the case with Impact for the most part.
5. WORST MATCH OF THE YEAR
– Eva Marie, JoJo, Natalya vs. Aksana, Rosa Mendes, Alicia Fox Monday Night Raw October 7th
6. WORST FEUD OF THE YEAR
No feud caused TV to drag more this year, and held a company back to a further extent, than the Aces & Eights and their stupidity. They were simply a lame team that suffocated the show and for what other reason wouldn’t they win the award?
– Aces & Eights vs. TNA
7. WORST PROMOTION
Last year it was with a heavy heart that I chose TNA as my worst promotion of the year. Well, not so much this year. Last year the company remained with a solid and at times very good television product that in 2013 dwindled to such an extent that I eventually dropped the show from the newsletter due to lack of interest from myself and readers alike. They also failed dismally from a business perspective and drifted even further away from the break even point before cutting costs.
I have seen Chikara as worst promotion on some ballots. I understand that many fans have been upset by being kept in the dark after believing in Quak and his vision of pro-wrestling for so long, but with company’s like TNA and All Japan (who came very close to winning this award on my ballot), I find it very difficult to see how a company like Chikara, an indie to barely even exist for the entire year, could possibly win worst promotion.
– All Japan Pro-Wrestling
8. BEST BOOKER
Some will make the case that the G1 and its parity booking brought Gedo and Jado down as the best bookers of the year. But, they did the same thing last year and won the award, and even when ignoring that fact when looking at the results of the G1 and alternatives to booking in that manner they had little choice. In months other than that of August they booked the most diverse, most consistently logical and entertaining product in the world. In that one month they utilized heavy parity booking, but even ignoring whether or that they could have done it another way, it was still one of the best work based wrestling tournaments of all time, at least from my and many others’ view point. From my perspective Gedo & Jado were simply worlds ahead of most other bookers and creative teams in the industry.
– Gedo & Jado
9. PROMOTER OF THE YEAR
Many people have blown Kidaani off as a “money mark” over the past couple of years since his trading card company, Bushi Road, bought New Japan in early 2011. However, when looking at what other promoters have accomplished in similar situations Kidaani really is extraordinary. Dixie Carter had add oodles of money to fool around with over the past decade plus, and has squandered it, while others like Shiraishi have run long standing promotions straight into the ground. This was not the case with Kidaani. Instead he did what many people seem to find very hard, and that is surround himself with a great wrestling mind and let them tend to the wrestling related aspects of the business. Mean while he had been able to build up New Japan’s iPPV model to the most successful in history capitalizing on the Japanese culture and history with traditional PPV. If Kidaani is able to keep New Japan on this same path, and possibly garners a new TV deal, one that New Japan needs in order to grow in the eyes of the general public, I can easily see him winning the award in 2014.
10. BEST GIMMICK
It may sound strange for an act winning the best gimmick award, but I don’t know what the Shield are. Nor do I know where they came from or what there goals are. And yet I don’t feel that it really matters. I think they are great, better than the Bullet Club in fact (a gimmick that has gotten old rather quickly) and for that they win the award, what else needs to be said?
11. WORST GIMMICK
The heel authority act is something that has been done to death since the success of the McMahon/Austin angle in the late 1990s. Promotions try and try to recapture that magic, but no one seems to really get why that angle worked in the first place. For one it has been diluted to such an extent that it won’t work for a very long time, and never again in the same form. Secondly, if you are going to do an angle such as that the heels need to get their comeuppance, something that never seems to happen and for that the Heel Authority versus Daniel Bryan wins worst gimmick of the year.
12. BEST WRESTLING BOOK
13. BEST PRO WRESTLING DVD
WWE Monday Night RAW December 23rd 2013 (Taped December 17th)
Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
What is left to be said about the Christmas edition of RAW that hasn’t already? It was a bad show. There were a couple of good matches, but in the end the show was mostly comprised of holiday goofiness, which was to be expected, but didn’t make the show any less difficult to sit through.
The show opened with Mark Henry and Damien Sandow reading WWE related Christmas rhymes. Factoring out the absurdity of the idea of Christmas being CANCELED, this was fine. Kane, Stephanie, Triple H, Kane and a random person in a suit were out in Christmas hats. Kane was handing out gifts before getting annoyed with a fan. Steph and Hunter hyped the Santa showdown with Stephanie doing obnoxious “yay” and “boo” sounds; a complete mockery. A graphic also popped up for Bryan & the Rhodes Brothers versus the Wyatts, and Cena, Punk & Langston versus the Shield. Orton interrupted them in the middle of their good wishes, bizarre given that both sides are heels, something that they very often times forget. Orton wished everyone happy holidays. He also wanted to give them a gift, himself, as a group hug followed. Kane then let his pyro off – this was stupid. There was a 12 Divas tag with Total Divas versus incomplete Divas. AJ was on commentary, so they had to put Vickie in there to fill the void. They have such a wealth of female talent in developmental, why so few of them have been brought up at this point I have no idea. Of course the whole thing broke down with the Total Divas all joining arm in arm swinging around for a wacky clothesline spot with Natalya submitting Aksana with the sharp shooter. A DUD would be generous. Sin Cara was out for a match with Curtis Axel. They actually aired an in-set promo in English with Sin Hunico, it was not pretty. JBL went on a rant about how children should work for their gifts, advocating child labor. They continued Sin Cara’s winning streak with a senton; it’s a pity that Axel’s star has fallen so far so quickly. There was a recap of the SmackDown handicap match. They aired the same clip of Sandow with a kid on his lap from last week.
Now that the jig is up so to speak there was a trailer for Batista on January 20th. Wade Barrett was shown collecting money for charity on a street corner. Yet another video package, this time recapping the Bryan/Wyatt angle followed by recaps from SmackDown. This was followed directly by the entrances for the tag match. A good portion of the audience seemed to be wearing Santa hats. Cole and JBL commented on Tony Romo’s footbal injury and validated their opinions by saying that Bryan was thrown onto concrete three days prior and was back wrestling that night. Wyatt and Bryan brought some strong fire at one point; they have some very strong chemistry together. The closing stretch saw everyone being laid out on the floor following a Bryan tope before Wyatt rushed in with a swinging neckbreaker on Rhodes to cap off a very fun match. The Wyatts continued the beat down after the match. The Wyatts closed by standing over the dead Daniel Bryan. They replayed the Henry Santa skit from last week. There was more of Barrett collecting charity money on the street corner.
There was a Christmas musical performance contest hosted by Renee Young. The first performance was with Xavier Woods and Truth with Woods who isn’t a terrible singer. McIntyre and Mahal were up next — of course they did the worst job they could possibly do. Next up were Santino and KHALI! Khali would just go “Balagahahbalaga” over Santino’s faux carol singing. This made me legitimately laugh. Santino & Khali won and rightfully so. 3MB crashed the party, but luckily Santino, Khali, Truth and Xavier cleaned house before singing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’, which was mediocre until Khali stepped in. This, unlike vomiting, 80+ year old women giving birth, and other atrocities, was good comedy, at least for my tastes. Ziggler was out for yet another match with Fandango, this time a Christmas present on a pole match. Dolf Ziggler, gimmick match extraordinaire. The present was a number one contender’s match against Langston. Both men worked hard, with Dolf even taking a very rough bump off the top rope down to the floor hitting the stares on the way down. Fandango grabbed the contract in the end. The Prime Time Players were in the ring with Young saying that they were in Houston, when they were in fact in Austin, which made them the subtle heels. The Usos were down for a tag match with Cole once again pushing the importance off the tag division. “This is Austin” chants ensued, followed by “Houston sucks” chants. One of the Usos dawned a Rudolf nose for the splash finish. After the match all four men did the millions of dollars dance. There was a Santa versus Santa tale of the tape.
Sandow and Henry were down with big christmas boxes spread around the ring. Sandow came down throwing Cole about. In one of the boxes was a toilet, with which he used to give Sandow a water-less swirly. This was the bad comedy I spoke of earlier. Both men struggled to get the fire extinguisher working. Sandow went wild with a candy cane destroying a ton of boxes on stage. The tree was destroyed before Henry landed the WSS for the win. He then threw some Christmas Cupcakes in the face of Sandow. Renee Young was backstage with Punk who said that he asked Santa for help and he got two tag team partnered, Langston and Cena who he introduced cutting short promos. Colter was in the ring calling Santa an illegal immigrant and then went off on the citizens of Austin. Los Matadores were down for a tag match against the Real Americans with a white Torito decked out in Christmas lights. Cesaro landed a 24 rep giant swing, unfortunately the crowd wasn’t as into it as one would have expected. Los Matadores, the babyfaces, switched out on Cesaro, making no sense. They proceeded to land more illegal offense with Cesaro being speared out on the floor before Swagger was pinned with a crossbody. There was another Batista video. Kingston was out for a match with Ryback. It was competitive, but Ryback won to some piped in boos.
Bad News Barret was out after collecting money, however, he snapped back to his Bad News gimmick. The Bad News was that he would be taking the money home with him and the segment ended. The Shield were in the back cutting a promo before the mainevent. Rollins at one point did the Flair/Michaels flip spot in the corner during the long heat on Punk. Finally the hot tag was made to Langston who ran wild before being caught with a heel kick from Reigns. Cena made the save, was caught with a spear, Punk landed a flying clothesline, Langston landed the big ending, but Reigns and Rollins made the save at the last moment for the DQ. I wish that they would just explain that teams have three saves and that’s it, it would make so much more sense. The babyfaces then cleaned house to send the crowd/TV audience home happy without beating the Shield.
Pro-Wrestling Year In Review 2013: Matches Thunder While Creative Blunders
As I type this it is December 28 2013, meaning that there are only three days left until we welcome in a New Year and open up a fresh document for our match of the year lists. It is also a time to reflect on the year that has been, the ups and downs, highs and lows and delve into exactly what made 2013 the year that it was in the unique and perpetually changing world of pro-wrestling. It was a noteworthy year, from the end of CM Punk’s 434 day long title reign, to the rise of Daniel Bryan, fall of New Japan, lack of creative direction, one of the greatest tournaments of all time and a work-rate year to rival any during my time as a wrestling fan.
When contemplating this article throughout the last couple of months I have asked myself numerous times the question of what exactly I will take most away from 2013 as a fan. Will it be the retirement of Kenta Kobashi, one of my favourite wrestlers of all time? WWE’s creative blunders perhaps? Or will it be the success of the Shield and rise of Daniel Bryan? The G1 Climax and blazing hot year for New Japan as a whole? In the end I had to admit failure, as there were too many important components making up this year to decide. In the next few years and beyond the answer will be revealed. But, at present we should get into our look at the year as a whole.
I tend to make this same statement every year, but I found 2013 a better year as a whole than 2012 for pro-wrestling; by a slight margin. It may not have had the excitement of Brock Lesnar’s initial return, the quality of that year’s WrestleMania, the long Punk title reign or the rise of a fresh face in Kazuchika Okada. However, what it didn’t have it made up for with some of the best in-ring action that you will see this side of 1989, and if not the very best, exceptionally close. The in-ring product as a whole across the world was so good in fact that next year may be the exception to the “it was better this year than last” type statement.
It was also a very unique year in terms of changing tides for future business developments in the industry. WWE moved ever closer to the launch of its Network, progressing through its many proposed forms until, at this point, settling on a subscription based online model. TNA seemed to be up for sale at one point, but over the last month or so those rumors have calmed. New Japan with Okada and Tanahashi at its helm were also able to push things forward as the flag bearers of Japanese pro-wrestling in 2013. New Japan is the second largest promotion in the world, and although that may have been the case in 2012, it feels like that really became public perception in 2013. It doesn’t feel as though they have reached their glass ceiling as an international promotion, and while it certainly does exits in the 2013 wrestling climate, New Japan hasn’t hit it yet and continued to lift its hand higher and higher, reaching for it heading into 2014.
New Japan kicked the year of with one of their largest successes since their resurgence drawing 29,000 paid legitimate fans on internet pay-per-view for what was their most successful Dome show attendance wise since 2006 at the very least. The success probably pushes further back, but given that this was the first legitimate reported number in years it doesn’t look all too hot in comparison with prior Dome shows. Regardless, as far as live attendance goes it had the largest live attendance of any wrestling show this year other than WrestleMania in New Jersey. It was also very successful from an iPPV buy-rate standpoint with Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi most likely drawing upwards of 100,000 buys, making it the most widely purchased wrestling internet pay-per-view of all time even beating WrestleMania.
If it’s business successes were not enough, the show ended up being one of the most artistically brilliant shows of all time with Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada, Low Ki, Prince Devitt & Kota Ibushi, Sakuraba & Nakamura, Minoru Suzuki & Yuji Nagata and Togi Makabe & Katsuyori Shibata all delivering unique blow-away matches throughout the night. While it was not my show of the year, as that honour was handed out later on as part of the G1, as far as a big show with live performances, big crowds, and important matches go there were none better this year.
Despite that show being one of the best of the entire year, there were still a number of issues heading out of it. For one Kazuchika Okada, winner of the G1 and future face of the company failed to regain his IWGP World Heavyweight title against Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event. In addition Laughter 7, Shibata & Sakuraba, a hot outside shooter team heading into the Dome were both defeated in their top matches on the show, which in the case of Shibata was due to backstage politics involving his early years with the company.
Thankfully, things were resolved over the months that followed, as Okada went on to become number one contender yet again going up against Hirooki Goto in a memorable match. Hiroshi Tanahashi also had a fun non-Okada based run defending the title against Karl Anderson in a match that tore the house down in March. Eventually the pair had the second of four 2013 classics on April 7th, on WrestleMania weekend, at Sumo Hall. Suffice is to say they out-shined everything on the WrestleMania card and Mania weekend as a whole, by putting together a match composed of quality work, atmosphere, star power, crowd reaction and importance leading to the best match of the year. A match which saw Okada regain his IWGP Heavyweight title.
While Tanahashi and Okada continued on their runs, with Okada defending his title every month on iPPV and Tanahashi engaging in a variety of mid-card feuds, another extraordinary star was busy emerging on the under card. The squat, stocky and stern looking Tomohiro Ishii at the age of 38, was able to shine and obtain recognition both from New Japan fans and management in a manner that alluded him in the past. This rise can be credited in some ways to Ishii’s barn burner with Masato Tanaka in February. It was a match that Ishii lost, but by showcasing the heart, fighting spirit and wear-with-all to take some brutal punishment from Tanaka he turned many a head. As the months rolled on he continued to do so, both in the G1 and elsewhere, including a much overlooked slug fest with Hirooki Goto from earlier in the year. Where the ceiling for Ishii is as he approaches 40 is unclear, especially given his height and age. But, if Ishii has shown us one thing this year it’s that he only needs to be given an inch to take a couple of miles.
There were other developments in New Japan at around the same time, including a stable that I have written about with mixed feelings over the course of the year, the Bullet Club. Importing American style concepts into Japanese pro-wrestling is hit and miss. Sometimes you can strike gold with an idea that can be easily translated, while at other times you end up with a complete dud. The later would have been the case had Tikaaki Kidani got his way and attempted a heel authority angle as he has wished. The Bullet Club was an angle somewhere in the middle. It was a good idea at first, but in some ways doesn’t feel fully realized as a multidimensional act.
One of the year’s most memorable moments transpired during WrestleMania weekend. However, it was not a moment from WrestleMania 29 that captured the attention of so many, but rather a title change that ended up creating the best match of the entire year — Kazuchika Okada versus Hiroshi Tanahashi on April 7th at Sumo Hall for the IWGP Heavyweight title. Of Okada’s matches with Tanahashi this year it wasn’t the most well worked, that accolade goes to their second match since Invasion Attack at King of Pro-Wrestling. However, the grandest moment of Okada’s career in winning the IWGP title, coupled with the hot Sumo Hall crowd and tremendous work over his Rainmaker arm made for a magical moment, and one that propelled Okada to new heights this year.
Hiroshi Tanahashi is often times credited with his extraordinary ability to make the most unlikely of challengers seem credible, and at times on the brink of victory. In 2013 Okada mirrored that ability in ways that few thought possible with terrific title defenses against Minoru Suzuki and Togi Makabe. What was perhaps even more impressive was the way that New Japan managed to make a star close to the level of Tanahashi in less than two years.
While Okada and Tanahashi showed why the IWGP Heavyweight title is the most important in wrestling this year, Shinsuke Nakamura made a case for the IWGP Intercontinental championship being second only to the Heavyweight title. Nakamura held the title for the for the entire year apart from a 50 day long stretch where La Sombra took the title over to Mexico. Nakamura won it back at Kizuna Road, which was most certainly a B-show, but looking at the main event of the 2014 Tokyo Dome main event Nakamura had enough star power to elevate the title back up after that 50 day dip.
In the seven months prior to the G1 Climax tournament 2013 New Japan was having a great year, but by August 11th, 2013 looked to rank among the top work rate years that the company has had in a very long time, perhaps in its entire history. Nearly every show from the nine night long extravaganza produced another handful of fantastic matches, and as was the case on night four, one of the greatest shows of all time. It was surreal carnival of great matches the likes of which I have never witnessed in such quick succession,a spectacle made possible by the availability of every show on internet pay-per-view.
Still with such explosiveness comes repercussions, as was the case with this year’s G1. I was nowhere near as heavy a critic of the parity booking as many were this August, after all New Japan have been booking the tournament in that manner for years, and every year it tends to work out. However, from a health perspective the tournament did cause a problem. Many of the veterans on the roster like Satoshi Kojima and Yuji Nagata decided to really kick things into high gear for the year’s second most important occasion, but in the process caused physical damage to themselves. New Japan was lucky that with twenty members of the roster going at it with full intensity that only two stars were injured to such an extent as to be rendered unable to compete for the rest of tournament (Hirooki Goto and Hiroyoshi Tenzan). But, even months later NJPW is still feeling the effects of the tournament as very few of their main roster members are functioning at optimum physical levels leading into the Dome.
The tournament also dealt damage from an artistic perspective, as nuances such as the one count, indicative of major matches, were heavily diluted after numerous matches utilized many of the same techniques in the span of less than two weeks. Not only that, but the tournament also acted to raise expectations to an unreal degree for the closing months of the year as things settled back down to normal.
Following the traditional one month break between the G1 Climax and the rest of New Japan’s scheduled line-up the New Japan roster were granted a well deserved break. After the hiatus we were treated to more great wrestling, although the large majority was unable to live up to the expectations set by earlier shows. Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi put on yet another classic at King of Pro-Wrestling, second only to their battle at Invasion Attack and Tomohiro Ishii/Shibata from the fourth night of the G1. This as far as work was concerned was Okada’s very best with some of the most masterful selling we would see all year.
Things cooled yet further in the November/December season, as New Japan put on two of its weaker attractions of the year, the Junior Tag League and World Tag League tournaments, which showcased some of New Japan’s most significant flaws in 2013, those of the tag division. With the Killer Elite Squad being the only full-time team of any real worth, the tag division is in serious need of a revamp. The World Tag League also comes at the wrong time of the year. The month or two occupied by the tournament could be used far more efficiently to build to the company’s biggest show of the year, the Tokyo Dome on January 4th.
WWE was a company of two world’s this year, there was the pay-per-view aspect of the product, which was down substantially from last year as far quality wise, and then there was the TV product which was up from previous years looking at in-ring work. Creative witnessed fewer highs than in previous years, as the Daniel Bryan summer angle was less a result of good booking, and more a case of an individual getting hot at the right time due to his own talent. Things cooled off significantly from that point and other than the pre-Mania build with Rock and Cena there was very little to really get excited about in that department. Still, while creative wasn’t producing anything of true substance for most of the year the talent was doing inverse in the ring.
If there was one positive to come out of the move to a three hour RAW format it was most certainly the increased capacity for the show to house good long matches. At the forefront of that movement was a relatively new act that had a tremendous 2013 — the Shield. Debuting at Survivor Series 2012, the team moved from strength to strength as they delivered tremendous six-man week after week against top talent while being pushed as a key main event act throughout the year; a decision that certainly contributed to the team’s growth. The trio as a whole, as well as individual members Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns showcased tremendous strides both from an in-ring perspective, as well as from the view point of star power and presence. Although I still see the Shield member with the greatest singles potential being Dean Ambrose, even if the company doesn’t see it that way.
Despite their vast gain in momentum heading into the New Year the Shield were disappointingly denied of a big time WrestleMania match, and instead were placed in a completely unremarkable six-man against Big Show, Sheamus and Randy Orton. The Shield could have added far more to the WrestleMania card than they did, and in the end WrestleMania this year needed it.
From the contrived build to the Undertaker/Punk match involving the incorporation of the real life death of Paul Bearer to the Rock/Cena build, while better than last year’s, lacking the true fire of a big time WrestleMania main event build; the build to WrestleMania 29 for a show in a big market such as New York was a large disappointment. The event itself also grossly under delivered with a crowd of some 80,000 fans all remaining relatively hushed throughout the night, with the exception of the Punk/Taker match, which easily stole the show. The Triple H/Brock Lesnar street fight that some expected to reach the levels of Hunter’s fantastic Mania street fight with the Undertaker from a few years ago. Instead what we ended up getting was a match build like it was the most important in the world, when in actual fact most fans on the night treated it as anything but. Cena and Rock reached expectations, but those weren’t set all too high to begin with resulting in a match booked for two workhorses when Rock and Cena as a pair were far too slow to execute the spots. Ultimately this resulted in Rock tearing his abdominal wall, suffering a hernia among other injuries. Nothing else on the show apart from Punk/Taker really managed to get fans off of their feet, resulting in a rather lackluster Mania. Still, there was hope in the air to some extent, as the post WrestleMania edition of RAW allowed the crowd to exude what they truly desired, making for one of the more entertaining shows of the entire year.
Despite the strong reactions from the post-Mania crowd, as well as fans in the UK during their European tapings, the PPV product still didn’t deliver in the way it had in year’s past. This included a failure of a program between Ryback and John Cena entering a last man standing match that witnessed a complete non-finish and a three stages of hell match that saw John Cena win the series. It was then on a seemingly random Monday Night on July 17th that Mark Henry cut one of the best promos of the entire year in a career highlight fake retirement segment, which led to Cena/Henry at Money in the Bank. That show also welcomed Rob Van Dam back to the company for a brief run that they could have done much more with considering the reactions that Van Dam received throughout his comeback run; always over far beyond his push. However, their mentality of only pushing guys that they saw as having potential of getting over led to many missed opportunities with none bigger than the repeated blunders following SummerSlam.
In the weeks leading up to SummerSlam they ran an angle where John Cena granted the most over man in the promotion, Daniel Bryan, a shot at his WWE title at the third biggest show of the year. Why? Basically because the fans liked the guy. The next few weeks of build to the show were some of the best of the entire year with Bryan showing some real fire, and Cena stepping up too. With Bryan getting hotter and hotter as the weeks went by and Cena diagnosed with a torn triceps weeks earlier the title switch had been set into motion. In the end not only did Bryan win in one of the best WWE PPV matches of the year, but he also pinned Cena clean, a very rare feat indeed. However, the collective jubilation of fans celebrating Bryan breaking down the career limitations placed upon him over years, was short lived. Randy Orton who held the WWE title Money in the Bank briefcase, cashed in following a pedigree from special referee Triple H.
In the end that pedigree was the gateway to a very long and frustrating road, as Bryan remained hot, but the title that seemed to be just within reach around the corner to every PPV, was pulled further away each time. Non-finishes and screwjobs were abound, and the buy-rates from SummerSlam to Survivor Series certainly showed major displeasure with the situation. It was almost comical at times to see the fans so heavily behind an act, more so than any other person in the entire company, but the company just refusing to accept it. Instead Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Randy Orton were made main fixtures during the closing months of 2013.
It isn’t a new phenomena, given how the quality of the WWE product falls off greatly year on year following SummerSlam. Whether it was the Nexus in 2010, Punk in 2011, Lesnar in 2012 or Bryan in 2013 it all ends the same way. And for the past three years all three hot acts were cooled off by the inclusion of Triple H into the mix. This isn’t a negative sign going into 2014, but it is a large stumbling block when attempting to get the product hot. After all, if you can only stay lukewarm to mildly hot for six months, before taking a bath in liquid nitrogen, there isn’t much room to build momentum.
There was TNA. Unlike New Japan and WWE when you can break down the pros and cons for each during the year, there was very little in the way of pros this year for the company. They continued on in the same fashion that they closed 2012 in, a comparatively good year for the company. That was with poor creative direction, granting the viewer the sense of being stuck in the doldrums of pro-wrestling . Making matters worse for TNA was the failure of the company to even retain its 2012 position in terms of business markers and TV production. They had to move the TV tapings off the road, drew bad attendance figures for the majority of their major shows and had to dance around rumors of the company being sold during the later quarter. While that was going on they somehow allowed for their CHAMPION OF THE WORLD to go on as a free agent as they failed to come to a contract agreement with him. Indeed, it was a terrible year for TNA, and 2014 may be worse if they don’t manage a drastic turn around.
I would however not like to end this retrospective on a sour note, but instead take a look back at one of my favorite moments of the year, one that has barely been mentioned by me up until this point — the retirement of Kenta Kobashi. Much like the Bull Nakano retirement ceremony in 2012, the 2013 Kenta Kobashi retirement ceremony in the building that he made his home as a top draw, Budokan Hall, was one of the moments that touched me most on a sentimental level this year. You could not get a ticket to the sold out Budokan Hall for anything on May 11th. Movie theaters aired the event on closed circuit, and according to live reports even those were very difficult to get into on the While Kobashi was unable to relive the magic of his glory years as far as work rate was concerned, but he was granted the opportunity to recount the majesty of some of his grandest matches such was the scope and fan fare surrounding his retirement.
2013 was an interesting year for pro-wrestling, but with the WWE Network, the return of Batista, the rebuilding of NOAH, New Japan and their possible dream matches, the Tokyo Dome show and more 2014 could be better. It’s pretty easy to be negative about pro-wrestling, and with the changes that the Network may bring to the business there may be just cause in that line of thought, but with all of the great moments this year stupendous retirement shows, hallmark title changes, feverous yes chants, faux retirements, and brutal slug-fests there is always something fun going on in the world of pro-wrestling…and, if there isn’t there is always the 80s sets.
Next Year’s Newsletter
We didn’t have time to cover the shows leading up to the Tokyo Dome show next year, but we have another big issue coming up next week covering the Tokyo Dome show, the couple of shows leading up to it, Monday Night RAW leading to the Rumble, the ratings, news, 2014 predictions and more!
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