2010 should go down as a memorable year in the pro wrestling business for several reasons, both good and bad. We saw some big successes, including the emergence of newcomers including Jack Swagger, The Miz, Sheamus and the members of Nexus. And some big failures, including TNA’s feeble attempt at waging a new Monday night war, and WWE queen Linda McMahon’s loss in her bid for U.S. Senate.
It was also a year when we saw some big names take what might be their final bows, including Chris Jericho, Batista, and most notably, Shawn Michaels. And also a year when we lost some talented performers, including Lance Cade, Chris Kanyon, Gene Kinisky, and Jack Brisco, to name just a few.
The pieces are in place for an equally interesting 2011, as WWE hustles to turn around some of its business woes and lack of depth in its main event roster, and TNA does what it can to convince its investors to keep it afoat for another year.
But before we look ahead, let’s look back at some of the best worst of 2010, according to yours truly.
Wrestler of the year: John Cena
Fans under the age of 12 may love this pick. Fans over that age may hate it. But the fact remains that, whether he was wearing a world title or not, nobody meant more to any wrestling company throughout the entire year than Cena. His work in hyping his WrestleMania feud with Batista early in the year showed him at his very best, promoting and embracing the values of “hustle, loyalty and respect” that he has espoused for years and have made him Generation Y’s Hulk Hogan. His feud with the Nexus carried WWE through the rest of the year. Along the way he had several very good matches with the likes of Batista, Wade Barrett and others. With so many of WWE’s top acts aimlessly jumping back and forth from heel to babyface, main eventer to midcarder, Smackdown to Raw—Cena was, once again, the one constant, and, by far, the biggest attraction in all of the sport.
Match of the year: Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker, WrestleMania XXVI
I still think it was a notch below their WrestleMania XXV match, but Taker-Michaels 2 was still better than anything any other wrestling company has put forth in years. On the grandest stage of WrestleMania, in both competitors’ home state, and in the rightful main event position, WWE’s two most tenured veterans told one heck of a story in the ring. The fact that it just might be the final match of one of the greatest performers of our time gave it added gravitas, as if it needed it. The big question is, without HBK in the picture, what in the world will pass as WWE match of the year in 2011?
Tag team of the year: The Motor City Machine Gunns
Calling any duo the best tag team in the sport is faint praise in 2010. WWE has been particularly neglectful of its tag team division, which is a real shame coming after 2009, when DX, Jeri-show and Legacy all frequented the pay per view main event scene. Instead, we saw the tag team titles traded around by the of the charismatically-challenged Hart Dynasty, WGN mainstays Santino Marella & Kozlov, and makeshift tag teams like Drew McIntyre and Cody Rhodes. Among everything TNA was doing wrong in 2010 (and there was a whole lot of it) one thing it did right was finally get behind Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley, who, for a long time, have been among the exciting and relevant acts in the company. They had strong showings against a variety of competition, ranging from Generation Me to Team 3D.
Woman of the year: LayCool
If they could share a single championship, then they could share a single award, too. Women’s wrestling was another redheaded stepchild in the sport in 2010. But despite the lack of competition, Michelle McCool and Layla El combined to make a wonderfully obnoxious heel duo, and one of the most consistently entertaining acts on the Smackdown brand. Beyond that, both ladies—especially McCool—gave good efforts in the ring, despite not having a lot of competition to work with. And that’s real talk.
Feud of the year: John Cena vs. The Nexus
With so many hours of first-run television programming each week, and monthly pay per views, it’s hard for most any wrestling angle to stick out as truly memorable in the modern era. But I think it’s fair to say that the night that the NXT Season 1 rookies surrounded the ring on Monday Night Raw, then proceeded to destroy Cena—and the entire Raw set—is something that fans will remember for years. The storyline pitting the group of resentful rookies vs. the face of WWE, Cena, was easily the smartest and most compelling storyline by a major wrestling promotion this year. That said, I’m not sure that WWE maximized the potential of this feud. There were a lot of questionable booking decisions along the way, including having Nexus lose to Team WWE in the first big showdown at SummerSlam, and blowing off the entire angle in a gimmicky chairs match announced just days ahead of time. Still, when it was good, it was really good. I’d me remiss if I didn’t give an honorable mention to Ring of Honor here, and its brilliant booking of the Kevin Steen – El Generico feud, which began in December of 2009 and remained red hot before finally climaxing a full year later at this year’s “Final Battle.”
Most improved wrestler of the year: The Miz.
This may be the deepest category in 2010, considering the number of new stars that emerged in WWE in 2010. Just months after debuting on television, Wade Barrett seemed as comfortable on the mic as a 20-year veteran. Sheamus had two-world title runs, and earned a reputation as one of WWE’s most dedicated workers. Even Alberto Del Rio has become a legitimate main eventer on the Smackdown brand. But nobody came further in 2010 than The Miz. Early in the year, most fans scoffed at the notion that the clownish Miz was cast as the “pro” for Daniel Bryan in the first season of NXT. A few months later, he’s become, arguably, WWE’s top heel, top talker, and, of course, top title holder. And make no mistake of it, The Miz has earned everything he’s gotten.
Biggest disappointment of 2010: TNA
I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one thing. There was the Monday night raw that lasted just a few weeks; The confounding decision to resurrect the dead and buried ECW brand; The ill-conceived notion of turning their most popular babyface into a heel; And the fact that the company spent millions to hire Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, Ric Flair, Jeff Hardy, Rob Van Dam, Ken Anderson and others only to have the exact same ratings as they have for years now. At every corner, TNA management embarrassed itself this year not only by making one bad decision after another, but by stubbornly refusing to change course even when it was apparent that what they were doing wasn’t working. With the same decision-makers at the helm obsessed with doing things the way they were done 15 years ago, there’s no reason to think anything will change in 2011. The only question is whether TNA will be around to receive this award again this time next year.