I didn't get these posted as promptly as I intended, but here they are – my selections for the best of 2009 in eight categories. I welcome your comments and encourage you to send along your picks.
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: RANDY ORTON
Looking at Orton's accomplishments in 2009, it's easy to see why he is the Wrestler of the Year. He won the WWE title three times and held it longer than anyone during the calendar year, main-evented WrestleMania XXV, wrestled in world title matches on 10 pay-per-views and won the Royal Rumble. But beyond his impressive resume, Orton deserves this honor because he consistently delivered outstanding performances (even when the booking at times didn't do him any favors), both in the ring and on the microphone. Orton didn't just play a heel character; he became the character. From his facial expressions, to his body language to the way he walked and talked, Orton was "The Viper." He spent most of the year feuding with two guys he had wrestled numerous times in the past – John Cena and Triple H, but even though the match-ups were rehashes of past programs, Orton still shined. In his feud with Triple H, Orton was involved in two of the most dramatic moments of the year – slapping Vince McMahon and kicking him hard in the head, and attacking Stephanie McMahon and kissing her in front of a handcuffed Triple H while she was unconscious. Orton and Cena engaged in intense, drama-filled matches on three consecutive pay-per-views – an I Quit match, Hell in a Cell match and 60-minute Iron Man match. Orton also used his star power to give a rub to up-and-coming stars Kofi Kingston, Ted DiBiase Jr. and Cody Rhodes.
MATCH OF THE YEAR: THE UNDERTAKER VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (WrestleMania XXV, April 5, Houston, Texas)
The showdown between the man who is undefeated at WrestleMania and the man known as Mr. WrestleMania for his showing-stealing performances at the event more than lived up to the hype. The 44-year-old Undertaker and 43-year-old Michaels delivered a match for the ages in what perhaps was the greatest contest in WrestleMania history. Even though the majority of fans and observers were pretty certain going into the match that The Undertaker would win, the two savvy veterans took the audience on a roller-coaster ride and succeeded in making the unthinkable – Undertaker losing for the first time at WrestleMania – seem possible after all. The match featured non-stop action, strong ring psychology, thrilling false finishes and a near-tragic over-the-top-rope dive by The Undertaker. In the end The Undertaker's undefeated record at WrestleMania grew – he pinned Michaels at approximately the 31-minute mark to improve to 17-0 – and so did Michaels' reputation as Mr. WrestleMania and The Showstopper.
FEUD OF THE YEAR: CM PUNK VS. JEFF HARDY
What began as "just business" gradually evolved into the most personal and entertaining program of the year. It all started when Punk cashed in his Money in the Bank contract at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view in June. Minutes after Hardy had defeated Edge for the world heavyweight title in a brutal ladder match, Punk came out and made quick work of the exhausted Hardy to take the title from him. At first, Punk, who up to this point had been a babyface, stressed that what he did was within the rules of the Money in the Bank concept and that he had no ill will toward Hardy. Neither Hardy nor the fans bought it, and over time, Punk morphed from an ambiguous character into a self-righteous, duplicitous heel. The contrast in Punk and Hardy's respective lifestyles became the focal point of their feud. Punk put a preachy, "I'm better than you" spin on his Straightedge philosophy, as he repeatedly cut strong promos that referenced Hardy's real-life issues with drugs. Hardy went on to regain the world heavyweight title from Punk, only to lose it back to him in a TLC match at SummerSlam that was among the best matches of the year. The feud came to a dramatic conclusion when Punk defeated Hardy in a loser-leaves-WWE steel cage match on Smackdown.
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR: BEER MONEY
Robert Roode and James Storm may ultimately end up making an impact as singles wrestlers, but as a unit last year, they had few peers. Beer Money possessed all the qualities of a great tag team – chemistry, in-ring ability and an entertaining gimmick. The fans in TNA took notice, as Beer Money always got great reactions from the crowds at live events regardless of whether they were babyfaces or heels. Beer Money had two reigns as TNA world tag team champions in 2009 and were consistently in the title picture. The highlight of their year was a feud with Team 3D that led to Roode and Storm turning babyface. A Philadelphia Streetfight between the two teams was the show-stealer at the Lockdown pay-per-view in April. Beer Money also had pay-per-view programs with The British Invasion, The Main Event Mafia (Booker T. and Scott Steiner) and Lethal Consequences.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: MELINA
Several women had their moments in 2009, but no one was as consistent throughout the year as Melina, who has come a long way since her days as eye candy for MNM. She is one of the more athletic women in WWE and perhaps possesses the best move set. Melina won both the Divas and WWE women's titles last year, with her two reigns totaling more than seven months; no woman in WWE or TNA spent more time as a singles champion. Melina and Michelle McCool had one of the better women's pay-per-view matches of the year at Night of Champions in July.
NON-WRESTLING PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: JEREMY BORASH
Not since "Mean" Gene Okerlund's heyday in the WWF in the 1980s has there been a backstage interviewer as fun to watch as Borash. Actually, the term "backstage interviewer" doesn't do Borash's role in TNA justice. In addition to conducting interviews with TNA talent – as well as handling ring-announcing duties for big main events – Borash played the on-screen role of TNA wrestler/authority figure Mick Foley's sidekick. Known as the Tweet and Tweak Connection, Borash and Foley had great comedic chemistry, and their scenes together on Impact helped move story lines along in entertaining fashion.
MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: THE MIZ
When tag team partners The Miz and John Morrison were forced to go their separate ways thanks to the WWE Draft in April, big things were predicted for Morrison; for Miz, not so much. Morrison did indeed go on to distinguish himself on Smackdown, but Miz – to the surprise of many – did the same thing on Raw. In two years, the former "Real World" star has gone from total joke, to solid tag team wrestler, to heat-getting singles heel. Miz improved every facet of his game in 2009 – his in-ring ability, mic skills and even his look. He began to stand out on Raw by launching weekly verbal tirades against WWE's biggest star, John Cena. That led to a match between Miz and Cena at The Bash pay-per-view in June. Miz went on to win the U.S. title from Kofi Kingston in October, and he also scored several victories over his old partner, Morrison.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR (awarded to the wrestler who made the biggest impact in his or her national debut): DESMOND WOLFE
Those who follow Ring of Honor knew it was just a matter of time before Nigel McGuinness left that promotion for one of the two major U.S.-based companies. McGuinness, who made his pro wrestling debut more than 10 years ago, initially agreed to a deal with WWE in September, but it fell through due to an issue with his physical. A month later, he signed with TNA and was renamed Desmond Wolfe. To say he made an immediate impression would be an understatement. In his debut on Impact, Wolfe attacked TNA's top star, Kurt Angle, and he also got the better of Angle in subsequent encounters on TV. He and Angle then took their feud to pay-per-view, where they had fantastic matches at Turning Point in November and Final Resolution in December.
PAST AWARDS WINNERS
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
2008: Shawn Michaels
2007: John Cena
MATCH OF THE YEAR
2008: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair (WrestleMania XXIV, March 30, Orlando, Fla.)
2007: Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena (Raw, April 23, London)
FEUD OF THE YEAR
2008: Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels
2007: Batista vs. The Undertaker
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR
2008: John Morrison and The Miz
2007: Team 3-D
WOMAN OF THE YEAR
2008: Awesome Kong
2007: Gail Kim
NON-WRESTLING PERFORMER OF THE YEAR
2008: Vickie Guerrero
2007: Jim Cornette
MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
2008: Kelly Kelly
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
2008: Evan Bourne
2007: Santino Marella
For more details on the 2008 awards, click here
For more details on the 2007 awards, click here