First, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and say thank you for making Ring Posts one of the most popular blogs on baltimoresun.com.
Here are my selections for the best of 2008 in eight categories. I welcome your comments and encourage you to send along your picks.
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: SHAWN MICHAELS
For most of 2008, it looked as if Edge was a lock for this award. Randy Orton and Chris Jericho also had strong years. Edge and Orton both missed some time, however, and Jericho didn't really get on a roll until the second half of the year. From January to December, it was Michaels who turned in one extraordinary performance after another, both in the ring and on the microphone. A decade after entering into a four-year retirement, Michaels, who turned 43 last July, proved that he's still "The Showstopper." Technically, Michaels didn't wrestle in many main events last year, but in the eyes of many fans, his pay-per-view matches with Ric Flair, Jericho and Batista were the real main events of the respective shows. On a couple pay-per-views, he didn't even wrestle and he still nearly stole the show with his promos. As the year came to a close, Michaels began an angle with JBL that is somewhat far-fetched, but he has succeeded thus far in making it compelling.
MATCH OF THE YEAR: SHAWN MICHAELS VS. RIC FLAIR (WrestleMania XXIV, March 30, Orlando, Fla.)
A legend of Flair's magnitude deserved a grand sendoff into retirement, and that's exactly what he got under the bright lights of WrestleMania. For Michaels, it was yet another WrestleMania moment to add to his spectacular resume. From a technical standpoint, it was far from either man's greatest match, and it wasn't even the best-worked match on the card. But the emotion of it being what most believed was Flair's final match, and Michaels' conflicted feelings over possibly ending his idol's career, made it something truly special. The finish will go down as one of the most memorable moments in wrestling history: A dazed Flair, with tears in his eyes, struggled to his feet and gestured to Michaels to bring it on; Michaels, with a remorseful look on his face, said, "I love you. I'm sorry," and then hit Sweet Chin Music for the win. Flair received a standing ovation and was serenaded with a "Thank you, Ric" chant as he made his way to the back, putting an exclamation point at the end of a career that began in 1972.
FEUD OF THE YEAR: SHAWN MICHAELS VS. CHRIS JERICHO
These two incredibly talented and savvy veterans brought out the best in each other in a program that had a very realistic feel and featured outstanding matches and promos. What really turned this feud from a good one into a great one was the heated segment that took place at SummerSlam, when Michaels, with wife Rebecca at his side, announced his retirement. The best verbal exchange of the year then occurred when Jericho demanded that Michaels tell his wife and kids that he won't be able to wrestle anymore because of Jericho, and Michaels responded that Jericho needs to tell his wife and kids that their daddy will never be Shawn Michaels. Jericho tried to sucker-punch Michaels, but Michaels ducked and Jericho connected with a stiff punch to Rebecca Michaels' face that resulted in a swollen and bloody lip. Michaels and Jericho wrestled each other on four pay-per-views: At Judgment Day, Michaels won clean in match before Jericho's heel turn had been completed; in a bloody match at The Great American Bash, Jericho won in a UFC-style finish; in an unsanctioned match at Unforgiven, the referee stopped the match and awarded it to Michaels because a battered Jericho was no longer able to defend himself; and in a ladder match for the world heavyweight title at No Mercy, newly crowned champion Jericho prevailed, breaking a tooth in the process.
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR: JOHN MORRISON AND THE MIZ
A strong case can be made for Beer Money Inc. (Robert Roode and James Storm), but that team wasn't formed until the summer. Morrison and Miz, conversely, were partners for the entire year. Morrison is clearly the more talented wrestler of the two, but Miz improved throughout the year and the duo eventually became a well-honed act. Morrison and Miz won the WWE tag team title in November 2007 and held it until July. A few weeks ago, they won the world tag team title. As evidence of how much Morrison and Miz's stock has risen in the company, they regularly appear on Raw, WWE's flagship show, even though they are officially members of the ECW roster.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: AWESOME KONG
Kong is a throwback to an era in women's wrestling when having a glamorous look and a bikini model's build weren't a prerequisite. Since coming to TNA in the fall of 2007, Kong has been very convincing in her role as a monster heel. In January, Kong defeated archrival Gail Kim to become the second TNA women's champion. The Kong-Kim program was by far the best in women's wrestling over the past year. Kong held the title until July and then regained it in October. At the Sacrifice pay-per-view in May, Kong got a chance to mix it up with men, as she teamed with B.G. James in a tournament to crown new TNA world tag team champions. Looking ahead to 2009, the biggest challenge facing Kong is a lack of competition in TNA.
NON-WRESTLER OF THE YEAR (awarded to the best manager/authority figure): VICKIE GUERRERO
If I were giving an award for Heel of the Year, Guerrero would be the winner. She has so much heat that the mere mention of her name at an arena draws loud boos. Guerrero's ability to incite a crowd is as surprising as it is effective. She did not have much presence and appeared tentative when she first became a regular character on Smackdown a couple years ago, but she found her footing as a performer after being paired with Edge toward the end of 2007. Guerrero's facial expressions and her delivery on promos have become top notch. And who would have ever thought that "excuse me" would become the most over catch phrase of the year?
MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: KELLY KELLY
Kelly Kelly was the very definition of eye candy when she debuted as an exhibitionist on the first episode of ECW in 2006 and later became a member of Extreme Expose, a dance troupe reminiscent of WCW's Nitro Girls. Dancing and serving as a valet seemed to be all that she was capable of doing. On the rare occasions that she was involved in a match (usually a tag match), Kelly Kelly appeared as if she had no business being in the ring. She kept at it, however, and by the summer it was apparent that she had made strides as a wrestler. While she still is just a serviceable worker at best, Double K has come a long way and even had some pretty good matches last year. If she continues to improve, I wouldn't be surprised to see her get a title run at some point, a notion that was unfathomable when 2008 began.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR (awarded to the wrestler who made the biggest impact in his or her national debut): EVAN BOURNE
Kofi Kingston and Ted DiBiase Jr. were both impressive and Vladimir Kozlov received the biggest push, but the newcomer who immediately got over was Bourne. He did so thanks to his breathtaking Shooting Star Press and assortment of other acrobatic moves. After appearing on ECW for a few months, Bourne, who had been wrestling on the independent scene since 2000 (mostly under the name Matt Sydal), gained wider exposure when he formed an outstanding tag team with Rey Mysterio on Raw in September. The following month, he and Mysterio wrestled against each other on Raw in a terrific match. At the Cyber Sunday pay-per-view, Bourne was a landslide winner in voting to determine the challenger for Matt Hardy's ECW title. Unfortunately, Bourne suffered torn ligaments in his ankle a couple days after that match, putting a premature end to his year. If Bourne can improve his promo skills, he has major star potential.
For the 2007 awards, click here.