For many of us in the pro wrestling community, 2007 was a year to forget. Despite the well-documented tragic and disturbing events of the past year, however, there were a number of outstanding performances. Here are my selections for the best of 2007 in eight categories. I welcome your comments and encourage you to send along your picks. I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year.
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: JOHN CENA
Due to a torn pectoral muscle, Cena didn't wrestle a single match after Oct. 1, but he already had this award sewn up by that point. Cena, who won the WWE title in September 2006, held the championship for over a year before surrendering it because of the injury. His reign was the sixth-longest in the company's 44-year history. Cena was a polarizing figure, but he always elicited a passionate reaction from fans and was the undisputed face of the company. Possessing an abundance of charisma, sensational microphone skills and a tireless work ethic, Cena sold more merchandise, tickets and pay-per-views than anyone. He was especially popular with kids and women. His in-ring ability often was criticized, but even though he wasn't a great technician, he rarely had a bad match and always rose to the occasion when headlining a pay-per-view. Cena didn't just have good matches with top workers such as Shawn Michaels, Edge and Randy Orton, either. He also put on a good show with the likes of The Great Khali (which is quite a feat), Bobby Lashley and Umaga.
MATCH OF THE YEAR: SHAWN MICHAELS VS. JOHN CENA (Raw, April 23, London)
Throughout his storied career, Michaels has carried average and below-average workers to great matches, but on this night, Cena more than held up his end. Three weeks after the two had an outstanding match at WrestleMania 23, Michaels and WWE champion Cena topped themselves with a classic that went nearly an hour. The non-title match, which included mat wrestling, fast-paced action and some brawling, started off slowly and gradually built to an exciting finish. The story of the match was that Cena was in command most of the way, but he couldn't finish off Michaels. After Michaels slipped out of Cena's attempt at an FU, he hit Sweet Chin Music (for the second time in the match) and covered the champion for the pinfall. This match proved that Michaels, who was three months shy of his 42nd birthday at the time, still is among the best workers in the business, and Cena is far better than he is given credit for.
FEUD OF THE YEAR: BATISTA VS. THE UNDERTAKER
The top two babyfaces on Smackdown brought out the best in each other during their fantastic five-match series. It began at WrestleMania 23 on April 1, when The Undertaker defeated Batista to win the world heavyweight title and improve his record at WWE's signature event to 15-0. In addition to Undertaker adding to his legend with the win, Batista gained credibility in defeat with his stellar performance. The two big men also did what many believed was impossible – they stole the show on a card that featured a terrific WWE title match between John Cena and Shawn Michaels and an exciting Money in the Bank ladder match. In a rematch four weeks later at Backlash, Undertaker and Batista battled to a draw in a hard-hitting Last Man Standing match. Then, on the May 11 episode of Smackdown, Undertaker – working with a torn biceps – wrestled Batista to another draw in a steel cage match. Moments after the bout was over, Edge cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and won the title from Undertaker, who subsequently underwent surgery to repair his injury and was out of action for four months. He resumed his rivalry with Batista at Cyber Sunday in October. This time, Batista – who once again was the champion – scored the clean pin. In a bloody Hell in a Cell match the following month at Survivor Series, Batista again retained the title, this time due to outside interference by Edge. Because of the controversial ending, nothing was truly settled, and we could very well see additional chapters in this classic feud.
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR: TEAM 3-D
In what wasn't a great year for tag teams, the former Dudley Boyz distinguished themselves and rejuvenated their careers. Team 3-D spent the first half of the year in a hot feud with LAX, but they really hit their stride when they turned heel during a program with Rick and Scott Steiner. Along the way, Brother Ray and Brother Devon added the NWA/TNA world tag-team titles to their impressive resume. In July, they wrestled Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe in the main event of the Victory Road pay-per-view. Toward the latter part of the year, Team 3-D began an exciting feud with the best young tag-team in wrestling, the Motor City Machine Guns.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: GAIL KIM
With her distinctive look and high-flying style, Kim is anything but a cookie-cutter "knockout" or "diva." She spent most of the year wrestling in mixed tag-team matches and working as a valet to various wrestlers, but she finally got her chance to shine when TNA created a women's division. At the Bound For Glory pay-per-view in October, Kim won a gauntlet match to become the first TNA women's champion. Her subsequent feud with No.1 contender Awesome Kong has become one of the highlights of TNA broadcasts. With Kim, Kong and ODB leading the way, TNA has the edge over WWE when it comes to women's wrestling. It's puzzling why WWE ever let Kim go a few years ago.
NON-WRESTLER OF THE YEAR (awarded to the best manager/authority figure): JIM CORNETTE
One of wrestling's greatest managers of the '80s and '90s brought his sharp tongue, quick wit and flamboyant personality to his role as the figurehead of TNA management. With the heel authority figure having become a cliché, Cornette instead portrayed a high-strung babyface simultaneously trying to maintain order in chaotic scenarios and appease his corporate bosses. Cornette's performances almost always hit the mark, even when saddled with the unenviable task of being the person who has to make sense out of some of TNA's nonsensical story lines.
MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: MVP
When Montel Vontavious Porter finally made his in-ring debut in October 2006 after a two-month buildup, "wrestling's hottest free agent" seemed destined to be a bust. His in-ring work was nothing special and the MVP character wasn't getting over with the crowd. When he began a program with Chris Benoit early in 2007, however, he noticeably stepped up his game. MVP faced then-U.S. champion Benoit on three straight pay-per-views, culminating with MVP winning the title at Judgment Day in May. Keeping up with Benoit in the ring – and defeating him – gave MVP credibility. From there, he took part in a highly entertaining story line with Matt Hardy in which the two feuded over the U.S. title while forming an odd couple tandem and winning the tag-team belts. Exceptional on the microphone and solid in the ring, MVP has become one of the best acts on Smackdown and a character the fans truly love to hate. Look for big things from MVP in 2008, perhaps even a world title reign.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR (awarded to the wrestler who made the biggest impact in his or her national debut): SANTINO MARELLA
Like MVP, Marella initially did not get over with fans after a splashy debut. WWE tried to create an instant babyface star when Marella, portraying a fan seated at ringside during a Raw broadcast from Milan, Italy in April, got in the ring against then-Intercontinental champion Umaga and defeated him for the title (thanks to a big assist from Bobby Lashley). After Umaga regained the title from Marella in a squash match in July, Marella began a heel turn. As a heel, the formerly bland Marella morphed into one of the most entertaining characters in WWE. His segments with Maria, Ron Simmons, Steve Austin, Chris Jericho and others were nothing short of hilarious. Although Marella has been used strictly as comic relief, he gets great heel heat and could be in line for a bigger push in 2008.