The 2018 WWE Arena Awards
A big Happy New Year to everyone! However your 2018 went, I hope that 2019 improves on that and brings you everything good in life. It's easy to get bogged down in the negative stuff. For example, after struggling to make it to midnight, I ended up crashing around 12:30am... and then waking up at 4:30am! Despite my best efforts to fall back asleep, that was me, I was awake. Rather than get mad about it, I threw on some YouTube, and then some Netflix- got immersed in the work of Donald Glover, first his "Weirdo" stand-up special on Netflix, then YouTube provided some hidden gem Childish Gambino tracks.
The time is now 6:40am, and I thought I'd revive my blog and do a little writing, with an idea I've had floating around in my head for the last week or two. The WWE Network released a Collection playlist called "WWE Match of the Year 2018". 35 matches, spanning across every WWE brand- Raw, Smackdown, NXT, 205 Live... even the Mae Young Classic and NXT UK make appearances in this epic playlist. So, my blog was going to be simply "WWE Match of the Year 2018". But in spending the last few days of 2018 working through these matches, it became apparent that there were far too many excellent matches, and if I tried to tackle them all, I'd be here until 2020... which- HOLY SHIT- I just realised is 12 months away! Where are my robot butlers? Where is my hoverboard?
So I opted to change it up and go for the inaugural year-end WWE Arena Awards. WWE used to do this with the Slammys, and a quick Google search revealed that they actually did a half-baked version of this the other week with a "WWE Year-End Awards" on their Instagram story. Some things I agreed with, others I didn't, but we'll see how we go now with my version. In each category, I will list the nominees, and then the winners. First up...
WWE Match Of The Year 2018
The nominees are:
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair- Last Woman Standing For The Smackdown Women's Championship- WWE Evolution
The first ever all-women's WWE PPV was a critical success. While the event was bolstered by WWE's female legends such as Trish Stratus and Lita, it was two of WWE's current full time ladies that were the talk of the Evolution PPV, after continually raising their games all year. Becky and Charlotte had an intensely personal rivalry that was a highlight of the latter part of 2018. Although Becky initially turned on Charlotte at Summerslam, in theory turning heel (bad guy- or girl), the fans were having none of it, seeing Becky as the underdog against the multi-time champion Charlotte, who- fairly or unfairly- is often viewed as a beneficiary of nepotism due to having the famous Flair last name and legacy. The first ever Last Woman Standing match in WWE history (ignoring that little match between Asuka and Nikki Cross on NXT TV a couple of years ago), Becky and Charlotte set out to have a hard-hitting battle that wasn't just "good for a women's match", but was just flat out great as a stand-alone match, with gender bias out the window. The action was fast and furious, the spots and risks taken were off the highest level, and while the result was the correct one (in my eyes), both women came out of that match elevated, commanding a higher level of respect and adding a truly classic match to their legacies.
Seth Rollins vs. The Miz- WWE Intercontinental Championship- WWE Backlash
Honestly, Backlash was one of the worst PPVs of 2018. The only thing that saved it from being a complete dud was this incredible opening match for the IC title. Rollins and Miz were coming off an entertaining triple threat match at Wrestlemania 34 which also involved Finn Balor. At the following month's PPV, The Architect and The A-Lister were able to run it back one-on-one, and they knocked it out of the park. Maybe the best match of Miz's career, and Seth Rollins continued his 2018 hot streak of having MVP performances (that's Most Valuable Player, not Montel Vontavious Porter). Going a shade over 20 minutes, but working a pace that made it not feel anywhere near that long, they put on a clinic. Rollins sold a knee injury exceptionally well, Miz capitalised on his openings and had credibility throughout with strong near falls, and we had great storytelling with the hero ultimately overcoming the adversity. A+ work all around.
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa- Unsanctioned Match- NXT Takeover: New Orleans
Gargano and Ciampa had a strong, long-burning feud that spanned over a year on NXT and led to a handful of MOTY candidates, but I believe the first one was the best. This was Ciampa's first official match back after the devastating knee injury he suffered in May 2017, which came into play largely in this match. The former DIY teammates went to battle in this unsanctioned match after Ciampa cost Gargano a match in NXT where the loss required him to leave NXT. If Johnny Wrestling could win this high profile match against his most hated rival, he would regain his roster spot in NXT. Simple, yet beautiful storytelling. The nature of an unsanctioned match in WWE is that the company claims no responsibility for what happens to either wrestler, so anything goes. The two long-time friends took advantage of that in an especially brutal battle by 2018 WWE standards, exposing the concrete and taking forceful bumps, and using a variety of weapons, including a great piece of symbolism where Ciampa's knee brace would come back to haunt him. It was an emotional rollercoaster, and the physical exertion from both men matched the emotional ride they took us on. Beautiful pro wrestling.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas- NXT Championship- NXT Takeover: Philadelphia
Johnny Gargano had a hell of a 2018. It started with a campaign for the yellow brand's biggest prize- the NXT Championship. Having unseated Drew McIntyre at the previous Takeover, and tearing the Scotsman's bicep in the process, Almas was at his peak level of performance, aided by the vivacious vixen, Zelina Vega. As "Cien"'s business manager, Vega helped instill the Mexican sensation with a confidence and sense of credibility that he hadn't had before. Gargano was trying the move past the mental anguish and demons of his DIY past, which Vega used against him in the first meeting against Almas at Takeover Brooklyn. Both men had something to prove, a history and clearly defined character arcs. All that was left was for the bell to ring, and the two athletes to show us what they had. And show us, they did! I believe it was the longest main event in NXT history, at least to that point, but never a dull moment. Some amazing feats of athleticism, next level drama, and never deviating from their characters, with some excellent callbacks to their history. It scored high on the Meltzer Scale, but most importantly, after occurring in January, it still held up as well in December, even knowing the result. Absolute brilliance.
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon- Wrestlemania 34
Ronda Rousey came into WWE with a lot of hype at the 2018 Royal Rumble. After a decorated MMA career in the UFC, where she crossed over into the mainstream, elevating the UFC and her own star power simultaneously, WWE decided to sign her to see if they could capture some of that Rousey magic. Her first opponent in the WWE was a no-brainer. First appearing in WWE at Wrestlemania 31 (while she was still undefeated, I might add, for any naysayers who think she just ran to WWE because she lost), she appeared with The Rock in a segment opposite executives/part-time wrestlers Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. WWE wanted Rock for Ronda's debut match, but Dwayne had movie obligations. Enter Kurt Angle. Angle shared an Olympic past with Rousey, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017. Angle was noted for transitioning from amateur wrestling to the showmanship of pro wrestling better than perhaps anyone in history, so in a sense he was the perfect person to help Ronda make the switch herself from MMA. And wow, what a switch it was! Perhaps the best debut match in history, no exaggeration- I can't think of anything close from any wrestler displaying that level of poise and physical ability in a ring so quickly. She seemed to have a tremendous grasp on the story-telling aspect of WWE, and while I don't doubt much of the match was rehearsed, it was nonetheless executed masterfully. Major credit to Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Kurt Angle for playing their roles perfectly too. Ronda Rousey was the major story coming out of WM34, and it was justified.
Daniel Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar- Survivor Series
A dream match we thought we would never get. Even with Bryan getting medically cleared after 3 years out of the ring at the start of last year, it was widely thought that WWE would never put Bryan in that spot opposite Brock, who as great as he is, has a reputation for being extremely physical and hard-hitting in his (often brief) matches. Survivor Series, with the Raw vs. Smackdown theme, was the battleground for this match on 5 days notice. Universal Champion Lesnar was scheduled to face WWE Champion AJ Styles, but AJ dropped the belt to Bryan just days before the big November PPV. What ensued was a battle unlike any effort Brock had put forth in maybe the last 5 years. Going much longer than the usual sub-5 minute Suplex City squashes, Brock got the early advantage over the smaller Bryan before the new WWE Champion would turn the tables down the stretch. The only thing that slightly hurt this match- and may prevent it from winning this award- is the match structure. Suits perfectly for Bryan the underdog babyface (good guy), but Bryan became a villain 5 days earlier in the title victory over Styles, kicking the Phenomenal One in the nuts en route to claiming the belt. What ensued was some confusion where fans didn't know how to react to Bryan- on one hand, there could be some sympathy because the big bully Brock is beating down the little man; on the other hand, Bryan is a dirty nut-kicker now, so... But it was a tremendous match, meeting the highest level of expectations from a physical standpoint.
And the winner is: Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas- NXT Takeover: Philadelphia.
Yep, January 2018, these boys had MOTY sown up. Well done and thank you, gentlemen.
There were AT LEAST ten more matches that could have realistically made the nominees list. Trying to keep the nominees to a maximum of six though! (Because you see how much I've written already for one category!)
Superstar Of The Year
The nominees are:
Johnny Wrestling lived up to his nickname in 2018. Kicking it off with the MOTY against Almas, and keeping the momentum going with a tremendous rivalry and a trilogy of great matches with Ciampa, you can't not consider him a front-runner for this award. Oh, and he turned heel and snuck in an incredible Takeover match with Aleister Black as well.
See Gargano. The most hated man in NXT, he didn't wrestle often on NXT TV (maybe 3 matches all year), but he didn't have to. Being evil and manipulative in promos for months, he had the NXT Universe begging to see him get his comeuppance. For crying out loud, his theme song for two-thirds of the year was literally the crowd booing viciously and chanting, "F--- you, Ciampa!" Still the NXT Champ, still doing big things.
The first half of the year, Lynch wasn't doing a whole lot. But the last six months, a switch flipped and Becky became "The Man". A brilliant feud with Charlotte Flair brought her the accolades and acclaim she deserved, claiming the Smackdown Women's TItle at Hell In A Cell and retaining it at Evolution. An injury caused by a careless Nia Jax caused Lynch to miss out on a historic clash with Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, but Becky's invasion of Raw, putting Ronda in the armbar might have been Raw's moment of the year. Becky returned to action in the first ever women's TLC match at the TLC PPV, but Ronda would get her revenge by costing her the championship. With Becky setting her sights on Ronda, look for The Man to have a huge 2019.
In March 2018, the unthinkable happened- Daniel Bryan was medically cleared to return to in-ring action. Spending 3 years seeking different medical opinions around the country paid off, and Bryan would relinquish his General Manager title, having his first match back at Wrestlemania 34, teaming with Shane McMahon to defeat Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. He would strangely tread water for a couple of months feuding with Big Cass of all people, but once Cass was given the boot from WWE (see what I did there?), Bryan got back on track by re-igniting his long-running feud with The Miz, which was highlighted by an excellent match at Summerslam. But it was his November heel turn and title win that puts him in the running for this award. Who could have predicted that someone as beloved as Bryan could masterfully turn the fans around and make them hate him? He did it by emphasising some of his real life traits in an over the top, obnoxious fashion, and in the process seemed to find a new fire and energy for his wrestling matches, ending the year with a couple of MOTY candidates against Brock Lesnar and AJ Styles.
At the beginning of 2018, Seth Rollins honestly wasn't doing anything special. He was teaming with Jason Jordan (remember him?) and they challenged for the tag titles at the Royal Rumble. But after he was given a massive opportunity on an episode of Monday Night Raw, things began to change for the man that likes to "Burn It Down"... whatever that means. The week before the Elimination Chamber PPV, all 7 participants were placed in a Gauntlet Match. Rollins started the match, and picked up victories- clean victories- over Roman Reigns AND John Cena! If that wasn't impressive enough, Rollins put in a monumental shift, wrestling for over an hour. And wrestlers don't get paid by the hour- ask Brock Lesnar. Rollins would parlay the buzz surrounding that Raw performance into a successful run with the Intercontinental Championship, winning it in a triple threat at WM34 and going on to having numerous MOTY candidates against Dolph Ziggler, The Miz and Finn Balor. Later in the year, Rollins reunited with Ambrose, and they had a tag team match at the Hell In A Cell PPV that was also among the best of the year. The Shield reunited in full at Super Show-Down in Melbourne, and Rollins would finish the year off by beating US Championship Shinsuke Nakamura, before dropping the IC Title to Ambrose at TLC.
Ronda Rousey's signing and arrival to WWE was one of the biggest moments of the year. Her debut match at Wrestlemania 34 stole the show. I can only compare her aptitude for pro wrestling to Kurt Angle, and someone else who had UFC championship success, Brock Lesnar. She literally carried Nia Jax to a couple of decent matches, and her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series gave us a good glimpse into how good Ronda can be when she mixes it up with the upper echelon of Superstars in WWE. Becky Lynch seems to be on the horizon for the "Baddest Woman On The Planet", and beyond that? I would LOVE to see if Rousey is ready for Asuka.
Winner: Seth Rollins
Just for consistency and strength of schedule, I have to go with Rollins here. I could do an article on just Rollins' Best Matches of 2018, he was that good. The TLC match with Ambrose was a weird anomaly, but it's almost a weird compliment to Rollins' ability, the fact that so many people were outraged that he had an average match. Onwards and upwards for my man, Crossfit Jesus, in 2019!
Event Of The Year
The nominees: Royal Rumble, NXT Takeover NOLA, Wrestlemania 34, Evolution, Survivor Series, TLC
The winner is: NXT Takeover: New Orleans
It was a close contest between this and Evolution. I think Evolution was more about the surprise factor- it was really enjoyable, but I didn't expect a whole lot from it, and it's always cool to have low expectations shattered. And as great as Becky vs. Charlotte was, it was one great match, while Takeover: NOLA had the North American Title Ladder Match (when I said there was like 10 other matches I could have included in the MOTY list, best believe this was one of them!), the NXT Title match between Aleister Black and Andrade "Cien" Almas, the Gargano/Ciampa Unsanctioned Match AND Undisputed Era vs. Dunne/Strong (the one where Strong turns on Dunne and joins the Era). Plus, a cool NXT Women's Championship match between Ember Moon and Shayna Baszler, where Lzzy Hale (who I fucking love!) performed Ember's theme song. Insanely loaded show, gave me Attitude Era vibes at times with the top-to-bottom strength of the card.
Moment Of The Year
The nominees: Ronda debuts at Rumble, Bryan returns from injury, Gargano was the attacker, Shield reunites, Becky Invades Raw, Bryan turns on AJ and wins the WWE Title.
The winner: Bryan Returns From Injury
Can't beat the raw emotion of that. Bryan gives a heartfelt promo, because it's not really a promo, he just speaks straight from the heart. When he talks about his wife Brie and he gets moved to tears... damn, right in the feels. And of course, it's a huge positive moment with Bryan's elation in being able to return to the ring and do what he loves. Pure magic.
Move Of The Year
The nominees: Ricochet- moonsault fall off the ladder, Velveteen Dream- Purple Rainmaker off the ladder, Tommaso Ciampa- handcuffed DDT on the exposed ring, Ricochet- double moonsault at War Games, Jeff Hardy- freefall off the Cell, Becky Lynch- leg drop off the ladder- Evolution/TLC
Winner: Ricochet double moonsault at War Games
Seriously, this award might be named the Ricochet Award in future years. Dude is incredible!
And on that spectacular note, I think it's time to end this. Thanks for reading!
Until next time, take care,