I know these are coming out a little late, but here are my selections for the best of pro wrestling in 2010 in eight categories. (OK, they're real late, but at least I got them posted before 2011 ended.)
I welcome your comments and encourage you to send along your picks.
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: JOHN CENA
This past year, Cena proved once again that he is the biggest star in wrestling regardless of whether or not he has a world championship belt. His WWE title programs with Batista and Sheamus were the main story lines in WWE the first half of the year, while his feud with The Nexus dominated the second half. It was during the latter that Cena's character became less one-dimensional. Cena captured his eighth world championship by winning the WWE title in the Elimination Chamber match in February, but immediately lost it to Batista right after the match was over. He then faced Batista on three consecutive pay-per-views, including WrestleMania XXVI, where Cena beat Batista for the WWE title to become a nine-time champ. The feud culminated with an exciting I Quit Match at the Over the Limit pay-per-view in May. After having vanquished his arch rival, Cena's next challenge came in the form of The Nexus, a gang of "rookies" led by Wade Barrett. Cena battled The Nexus for six months in a story line that had several interesting twists, including Cena being forced to join the group and be subservient to Barrett. Cena's battles with The Nexus headlined several pay-per-views, and he was even the focal point of two pay-per-view main events that he wasn't actually wrestling in, as he served as special referee for WWE title matches between then-champion Randy Orton and Barrett.
MATCH OF THE YEAR: THE UNDERTAKER VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (WrestleMania XXVI, March 28, Glendale, Ariz.)
These two legendary performers had the unenviable task of trying to top their match at WrestleMania XXV a year earlier, which is considered by many to be the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. Whether they succeeded is debatable, but a strong case can be made that they at least equaled it. This time around, the stakes were much higher, as it wasn't just The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania that was on the line, but also Michaels' career. The 24-minute match was a great piece of storytelling. After some terrific back-and-forth action, The Undertaker began to dominate, but he couldn't finish Michaels off even though he hit all his signature moves. In a rare display of compassion, Undertaker at one point told Michaels to just stay down, but a weakened Michaels used The Undertaker's body to try and steady himself, and then did The Undertaker's throat-slash gesture and slapped him hard across the face. A furious Undertaker scooped up Michaels and delivered a jumping Tombstone to win the match, improving his WrestleMania record to 18-0 and dropping the curtain on "The Showstopper's" brilliant 26-year career.
FEUD OF THE YEAR: JOHN CENA VS. THE NEXUS
Fresh off winning NXT Season 1, Wade Barrett and his fellow NXT "rookies" invaded Raw on an episode in early June and immediately turned WWE upside down. The group – which would later be known as The Nexus – targeted Cena, who was taken out on a stretcher that night after being attacked by the gang. The feud built to a seven-on-seven elimination match between a Cena-led Raw team and The Nexus that headlined the SummerSlam pay-per-view. Cena's team prevailed, but that was not the end of The Nexus. Barrett defeated Cena at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view in October in a match in which the stipulation was that Cena had to join The Nexus if he lost. Cena had no choice but to fall in line and take orders from Barrett or else he would be fired, which presented a moral dilemma for wrestling's ultimate babyface. Cena served as the special referee for two pay-per-view matches between then-WWE champion Randy Orton and Barrett. The stipulation for the second one was that if Barrett won the title, Cena would be free to leave The Nexus, but if Barrett lost, Cena would be fired. Cena called the match down the middle and ended up being fired when he made the three-count on Barrett. Cena never really left, though, and he was officially reinstated when he scored a decisive victory over Barrett in a Chairs Match at the TLC pay-per-view in December.
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR: THE MOTOR CITY MACHINE GUNS
There's no question that Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin have been one of the most – if not the most – talented tag teams in wrestling over the past few years, and in 2010, TNA finally made better use of all that talent. After the TNA world tag team title was declared vacant in June, the Guns defeated Beer Money in a title tournament final that stole the show at the Victory Road pay-per-view in July. The Guns went on to hold the title for the rest of the year. Their first title defense came in the form of a fantastic best-of-five series against Beer Money. The teams split the first four matches – which were a Ladder Match, Street Fight, Steel Cage Match and Ultimate X Match – and saved the best for last. On a special episode of Impact in August that was dubbed "The Whole F'n Show," the Guns defeated Beer Money in a 21-minute, two-out-of-three falls match to win the series. In my opinion, it was the second-best match of the year, trailing only the Undertaker-Shawn Michaels match at WrestleMania XXVI. After the series with Beer Money concluded, the Guns engaged in an entertaining program with fellow high-flyers Generation Me. They wrestled each other on three pay-per-views, including TNA's marquee event, October's Bound for Glory, where they had a great match that was the best on the card. The Guns won all three of those matches against Generation Me, and also defeated Team 3-D in an outstanding match at the Turning Point pay-per-view in November.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: MICKIE JAMES
Most years, a performer who was out of the limelight for five months wouldn't warrants serious consideration for this type of award, but the fact is that there just wasn't a dominant female performer in 2010. Despite not being with either of the two major promotions from late April to early October, James still made more of an impact last year than any other woman in wrestling. In fact, James' presence was felt in WWE even after her surprising release from the company. On the first Raw after James was let go – which just happened to take place in James' home town of Richmond, Va. – a chant of "We Want Mickie" broke out during a Divas match. Before leaving WWE, James won her sixth title, defeating Michelle McCool for the WWE women's championship at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in a match that was part of the much-talked-about "Piggy James" angle. James spent the summer wrestling on independent shows and promoting her country CD before debuting in TNA in October. James immediately became the top babyface in the Knockouts division, as she engaged in a heated feud with Tara. They battled in matches that were significantly more physical than typical Divas and Knockouts bouts. Among them were a Falls Count Anywhere Match (won by Tara) at the Final Resolution pay-per-view in December, and a Steel Cage Match (won by James) that was the main event on an episode of Impact. As the year came to a close, James was the No. 1 contender for the TNA Knockouts title.
NON-WRESTLING PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: MICHAEL COLE
WWE has tried a few times in the past to turn its play-by-play announcers into characters who get involved in story lines, and it's never really worked – until now. Cole, who has been with WWE since 1997, began showing some heel traits last year during the first season of WWE NXT, when he constantly praised The Miz and put down Daniel Bryan and the Internet Wrestling Community. That led to a couple of physical confrontations between Cole and Bryan, as well as an intense verbal exchange. It was clear at that point that Cole had more to offer than simply being a straight play-by-play guy. Cole went on to become the voice of the anonymous Raw general manager, and that's when he went into full-fledged heel mode. Cole began receiving massive heat from the crowd every time he stood up to read an e-mail from the GM. "And I quote" – which is what Cole always says before reading the e-mails – has even caught on as a catch phrase. Cole's heel character became even more prominent when he interfered in The Miz's WWE title defense against Jerry Lawler in a TLC match on a November episode of Raw.
MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: JACK SWAGGER
Swagger was lost in the mid-card shuffle until he surprisingly won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania XXVI. Swagger cashed in his MITB contract on March 30, defeating a weakened Chris Jericho to become world heavyweight champion. Swagger would hold the title for nearly three months and participate in world title matches on four consecutive pay-per-views. The booking certainly didn't do Swagger any favors as far as making him look like a credible world champion, but Swagger demonstrated during his run as a main-eventer that he possesses the skills to perform at that level. He raised his game both in the ring and on the microphone. Swagger also showed a flair for comedy in segments with The Big Show and Swagger's "father." After losing the world title, Swagger's role became less prominent, but he continued to deliver the goods in the ring. His series of matches with Rey Mysterio and Kofi Kingston drew rave reviews, as did a triple threat match between him, Kingston and Dolph Ziggler that was the main event of the final Smackdown broadcast of the year.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR (awarded to the wrestler who made the biggest impact in his or her national debut): WADE BARRETT
Barrett made his first appearance on WWE television in February as one of the participants on the first season of NXT. Just several months later, he was main-eventing pay-per-views and working programs with the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton. It became evident pretty early on NXT that the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Barrett – who displayed tremendous poise on the microphone and solid skills in the ring – was the best all-around performer of the eight "rookies" vying for a WWE contract. When independent wrestling sensation Daniel Bryan was among the first three to be eliminated, it became almost a given that Barrett was going to win the competition – and he did. What happened next shocked the wrestling world. Instead of Barrett simply getting a spot on WWE's main roster as expected, he formed a rogue group – which would come to be known as The Nexus – with the seven other NXT participants and led an invasion of Raw. Over the final six months of the year, Barrett was one of the hottest heels in the business. During that time, he proved that he could hold his own with the very top stars in WWE whether it was a war of words or a physical confrontation.
PAST AWARDS WINNERS
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
2009: Randy Orton
2008: Shawn Michaels
2007: John Cena
MATCH OF THE YEAR
2009: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXV, April 5, Houston, Texas)
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
2009: CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy
2008: Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels
2007: Batista vs. The Undertaker
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR
2009: Beer Money
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
2009: Jeremy Borash
2008: Vickie Guerrero
2007: Jim Cornette
MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
2009: The Miz
2008: Kelly Kelly
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
2009: Desmond Wolfe
2008: Evan Bourne
2007: Santino Marella
For more details on the 2009 awards, click here
For more details on the 2008 awards, click here
For more details on the 2007 awards, click here