THE APOSTLE AWARDS [Best Wrestling of 2018]: Assassins’ Creed.
Calling all smarks across the globe: It’s the third annual Apostle Awards! To come up with the very Best of Everything in Pro Wrestling for 2017, we asked 11 members of the Ringside Apostle congregation to vote. And, damn did we have answers — answers that ranged from the highest mountaintop of World Wrestling Entertaiment (N-X-T!?!?!!!) to the epic tradition of the New Japan Pro Wrestling rising sun, right down to the fancy new downtown nightclub home of Pro Wrestling Guerilla (P-Dub-G!).
We hope you and yours had a #OneSweet Christmas Holiday.
***MATCH OF THE YEAR***
1. *TIE* Okada vs. Omega IV (NJPW Dominion) / Ciampa vs. Gargano (NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, Chicago II, Brooklyn 4)
2018 may have been a dumpster fire of a year in general, but it was an excellent year for wrestling. So much so that we had a tie for Match of the Year! No surprise that the fourth meeting between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada made it — they don’t call Kenny the Best Bout Machine for nothing — and their match at Dominion was sheer perfection. And to cap it off, Kenny went home with the IWGP title? This Omega mark was so overcome with emotion she cried tears of joy and relief on the sofa afterward.
(cont.) Our other MOTY winner was Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano. ALL OF THEM. Much like last year’s winner (Okada vs. Omega I-III), each match was superb, but together they told a story that couldn’t be beat. The rise of Tommy Sports Entertainment. The fall of Johnny Wrestling. The attack of Aleister Black. Gargano’s heel turn. And now the reunion of #DIY. It’s a Greek epic. It’s Steen and Generico. It’s the Shield, except we actually care.
3. North American Championship Six-Man Ladder Match (NXT TakeOver: New Orleans)
Honorable Mentions: Super Elite Bros vs. Impact Wrestling 10-Man Tag Match (Chris Jericho Rock ‘n Wrestling Rager At Sea), Kota Ibushi vs. Cody vs. Kenny Omega (NJPW Kings of Pro Wrestling), Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii (G1 Climax 28), Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi (G1 Climax 28).
***BRAND OF THE YEAR***
I wanted to write this one so badly, seeing how I’ve been one to sing the praises of New Japan as the “Be All, End All” in professional wrestling. NXT had such a grand 2018 that it’s hard to fathom that this is, indeed, a WWE product. It’s like fucking night and day from the main roster. Led by Paul “Hunter” Levesque and William Regal, NXT is essentially, literally and figuratively “PWG with WWE’s budget”. The amount of wrestlers signed by WWE’s “performance center” that I’ve grown to love and adore at a 350-seat armory in a little town 20 miles north of Los Angeles is astounding. Thankfully, NXT hasn’t ruined too many of them yet, with Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, Adam Cole and Ricochet leading the charge, holding on to much (if not all) of the persona that got them over in the first place. Moreover, you could also argue that any of NXT’s TakeOver shows belong in the conversation for the best wrestling events of 2018. TV was bolstered with a surplus of ROH/indie/IMPACT pick-ups (Punishment Martinez, Velveteen Dream, EC3), an outstanding and ever-improving tag team division (War Raiders, Street Profits, Heavy Machinary), and the best female wrestling roster on American soil (Kairi Sain, Shayna Baszler, Bianca Belair). I can’t say enough about NXT and with its plethora of talent ready to blow for 2019 (Dijakovic, ACH and Trevor Lee?), it appears the rich only about to get richer.
Honorable Mention: PWG.
***PPV/EVENT OF THE YEAR***
1. All In
All In was a very hard thing to judge, a pro wrestling event that focused more on giving the fans what they wanted than G1/BOLA-level match quality. But fans got that too; every match delivered, and delivered in many different ways. Variety was a key to success, so even if you thought the Cody/Magnus match was boring, you had your Dominion main event-style match later with Okada/Scurll. If the old WWF shenanigans of the Battle Royal/ROH title match weren’t for you, you had the insane Lucha-style efforts of Omega/Penta and the 6-man tag main event. Even a guy who dresses up on TV as a DC Comics superhero had a good match. The Chicago crowd was amazing, the selection of refs and ring announcers were outstanding, and the commentary on the iPPV was top-notch. All In was such a success that The Elite — Cody, Matt and Nick Jackson, Adam Page and Kenny Omega — have decided to “Change the World” in 2019 and superkick-start their own wrestling promotion, All Elite Wrestling. And to think they didn’t even need CM fuckin’ Punk…
2. NXT TakeOver: War Games
3. *TIE* NXT TakeOver: Chicago II / NXT TakeOver: New Orleans
Honorable Mentions: WWE Evolution.
***MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER OF THE YEAR*** (new category)
1. Hangman Page
Is there anyone on Earth who would object to most improved wrestler being Hangman Adam Page? Rounded by his hotly contested TV title match at Final Battle against Jeff Cobb, dude hasn’t put on a bad match in ages; and while his work in this year’s G1 Climax was rock-solid, it was matches against Joey Janella (All In) and Kota Ibushi (Supercard of Honor XII) that helped elevate his status in the industry. To boot (pun most clearly intended), Page has been entertaining in promos and on Being the Elite. Even in the an AEW full of “Elite” wrestling pals, there’s no way Page won’t be a world champ sooner than later.
2. Shayna Baszler
3. Roppongi 3K
***MANAGER OF THE YEAR***
1. Lio Rush
“LASH-LEY! LASH-LEY! LASH-LEY!” The people took notice to Lio Rush when he first hopped onto the indie scene (he straight killed it in CZW, did his thing in PWG), and when he got “called up,” we continued to look on, nervous as to what MeekMahan would do with him. And, even with a minus-205 lb. division — what did Vince do? Made him a damn manager. But, Lio is doing quite fine in this position, and I think the people are just happy to see him getting air time. But still, he’s got a certain IT factor to his swagger that hasn’t gone unnoticed. At least not by us marks.
2. Brandi Rhodes
Honorable Mentions: Zelina Vega, Gedo, Eddie Kingston.
***COMMENTATOR OF THE YEAR***
1. Mauro Ranallo (NXT, Showtime Boxing)
I hate this rambling idiot. Enough of the congregation voted for Mauro, but I’m the one to write this category– so here we are. I told the Apostles I wasn’t going to praise him. Anyway, I guess in 2018 he continued to hone his craft of sounding like an overexcited stroke patient trying to be a poor man’s Jim Ross. He also has a great knack at trying to use pop culture references to try to seem cool… Ugh, what else? Oh, and he’d be rich if yelling “MAMMA MIA!” during big matches payed $10,000 per instance. Thank you, Ciampa for the best moment of 2018: You throwing his notes in his face at TakeOver. I love you. Hopefully he doesn’t cry about you bullying too.
2. Kevin Kelly (NJPW, RevPro)
3. Renee Young (WWE Raw)
***CRUISERWEIGHT/JR. HVYWT OF THE YEAR***
1. Buddy Murphy
After Blissy went to the main roster, we’d seen neither hide nor hair of Buddy Murphy. (Unless you watch Total Divas. Or follow their pet pig on Instagram.) So imagine our collective shock when the guy who had exactly one televised match last year, showed up as part of the tournament to crown a new a cruiserweight champ after the title was vacated by that dumbass who got himself fired and then banned. Murphy didn’t win, but he quickly established himself as the new breakout star on 205 Live. After an unsuccessful attempt against Cedric Alexander, he captured the Prince Memorial Championship in his hometown of Melbourne and hasn’t looked back since.
2. Will Ospreay
Honorable Mentions: Mustafa Ali, Darby Allin, Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh)
***HEEL OF THE YEAR***
1. Tommaso Ciampa
He’s always been a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I, like many others were just waiting for Ciampa to show his true colors. His teaming with Gargano was a timebomb waiting to explode. Now that Ciampa has his prize, for the latter half of 2018 he has his darkness deeply wrapped around that belt. He’s not wrestling for the fans. He’s not there for the accolades. He’s there for himself and himself only (hell, Tommaso’s not even in WWE 2K19 and he’s the damn champion!) From walking out for weeks with no ring music because the fans don’t deserve it, to manipulating opponents into major matches just days before they have to challenge him for his prize — there are many heels in pro wrestling — but there is only one Tomasso Ciampa: “The Greatest Sports Entertainer of All Time”.
Honorable Mentions: Shayna Baszler, Daniel Bryan, Trevor Lee, Jay White, Chris Jericho.
***FACTION OF THE YEAR***
1. Undisputed Era
The Undisputed Era faction has taken NXT by storm. The emergence of the “Messiah of the Backbreaker” Roderick Strong as the fourth member has made the team more powerful and diverse as ever. As if the star-studded cast with leader and initial North American champ Adam Cole and his relentless cronies Kyle O’Reilly (one of the best technical brawlers in the game) and Bobby Fish (on the shelf for most of the year but has made an immediate impact in multi-person matches and a solo outting with EC3) weren’t dangerous already. The chemistry between former ROH/PWG vets is *****-worthy each and every week. While this Era is the present (and perhaps future) of NXT, it would have been great to see the Raw roster shaken up with their invasion. Ah well. That said, there hasn’t been a faction this dominant in the WWE since The Shield’s original run, bay bay!
2. The Elite
***WOMAN WRESTLER OF THE YEAR***
1. Becky Lynch
The woman of the year is most certainly The Man. After years of marks screaming about how underutilized Becky has been, they finally got a glimpse of what the Irish Lasskicker is capable of. She spent the first half of 2018 as just another woman on the roster but at SummerSlam she turned on her best friend and never looked back. She became an antihero that hasn’t been seen in the PG era of sports entertainment with a social media game second to none. But when Nia Jax botched her nose with an ill-advised stiffy, Becky became the hottest thing in wrestling with blood gushing from her face. A blood-soaked and concussed Lynch didn’t skip a beat, whooped Raw woman’s champ Ronda Rousey and left through the crowd covered in blood, arms outstretched, much to the delight of everyone in attendance. 2019 should continue Becky’s meteoric rise to the top and the rumor of her main eventing WrestleMania is not at all far-fetched.
***TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR***
1. *TIE* The Shawn & Sean Show / The Rascalz
Of course the Ringside Apostles’ Sean & Shawn Show was voted Best TT of 2018. Did you expect otherwise? Somehow, those pesky wittle Rascalz were able to tie us for votes. A great year on the Indy circuit (AAW, PWG) and an Impact contract to end the year makes them the team to watch in a sea of great tag teams right now, I guess. That alley-oop finisher though…
Honorable Mentions: Mustache Mountain, The Young Bucks, War Raiders, Ringkampf, Lucha Bros., Undisputed Era, Golden Lovers.
***COMEBACK/HEEL TURN OF THE YEAR***
1. Daniel Bryan
I don’t know what was going nowhere quicker: Bryan‘s “fight for your dreams and blah blah” catchphrase, or his “nerd trying to intimidate” one of “I want to punch you in the face”. Thankfully, he took a training camp at Nakamura’s Nut-kicking Heel Turn Dojo (it was refreshing for Bryan, but not anything we haven’t seen before.. this year). Since Naka’ing AJ’s balls for the 40th time this year and grabbing the title, Bryan has been a vicious and entertaining champ, showing no mercy and introducing new moves (love the double wrist hold face stomp). On the mic, he’s gotten annoyingly preachy, infusing his real life beliefs into his on-screen persona (a-la CM Punk’s straight edge savior). The “New Daniel Bryan” thing is lame; we don’t do that when people turn heel and it’s fucking stupid. Second, I feel it’s a huge misstep to not incorporate The Miz into Bryan’s behavioral change considering that not even a month before they were fueding over Daniel’s “you don’t have to cheat to win” and Miz’s “you have to do anything it takes”. They could’ve done something great with Miz coming out and starting with “Thanks for proving me right, Daniel…”
2. Roderick Strong (Heel Turn), PCO (Comeback)
3. Chris Jericho (Comeback)
Honorable Mentions: Becky (Comeback), Johnny Gargano (Heel Turn).
***GIMMICK OF THE YEAR***
1. Velveteen Dream
Velveteen Dream started the year as a midcard heel but is ending it as the top face of the brand, and he didn’t have to change his character or attitude to accomplish that. All he did was steal the show week after week with solid skills and off-the-charts storytelling. The Dream went from defeating Kassius Ohno on the undercard of TakeOver: Philadelphia in January to stealing the show in the classic North American Championship Ladder Match at TakeOver: New Orleans (ultimately won by Adam Cole) to having one of my favorite feuds of the year with Ricochet (which included a MOTN at TakeOver: Chicago II) to finishing 2018 with a great match for Ciampa’s title at TakeOver: War Games. As we enter 2019 he is the most over person on the NXT roster and it’s only a matter of time before he gets to showing off “the experience” to the mainstream.
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Bryan (“Fickle!”), Becky (“The Man”).
***JOBBER OF THE YEAR***
1. Finn Balor
Hey Finn! You’re finally over!! Someone in the back loathes Finn Failure as much as I do and decided to make this guy nothing more than a glorified spot monkey that just doesn’t win. I’d like to shake that man’s hand, whoever he is. Balor Club is for Everyone because winning isn’t. Loser. At least the former most vicious heel ever (Prince Devitt) can say he won something this year.
Honorable Mentions: Fabian Achner, Sasha Banks, Dakota Kai, Kassius Ohno.
***BREAKOUT WRESTLER OF THE YEAR***
It was almost a no-brainer that Bandido wins our breakout star of the year. He was an instant success when he suddenly popped up at the new homebase for Pro Wrestling Guerilla (downtown LA’s Globe Theater). By the end of his first match, a team-up with Mexiblood partner Flamita against The Rascalz at Time Is A Flat Circle, the crowd had completely lost its mind with the innovative luchador. Bandido would go on to shine at PWG’s All-Star Weekend the following month in matches against Ishimori and Rey Horus (a match that gave his top rope fallaway slam instant legendary status). Bandido would go on to compete in several must-see tag and 6-man tag matches for PROGRESS, WrestleCon, RevPro, AAW and, hell, was even in the main event of All In. Bandido was everywhere. Enter Battle of Los Angeles 2018 just a few months later, and the PWG faithful reacted as if he were a returning legend. He’d go on to have 5 matches in 3 nights, highlighted by a heartbreaker of a BOLA finale against Jeff Cobb and Shingo Takagi. This guy deserves max respect, and I’m anxious to see how this worldwide sensation fairs in Ring of Honor in 2019.
2. Becky Lynch
3. Jeff Cobb
Honorable Mentions: Tommaso Ciampa, WALTER, Flip Gordon, Drew McIntyre.
***RIVALRY OF THE YEAR***
1. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
The best rivalry in the entire industry has to be Ciampa/Gargano. The matches, the promos, the heat.. this storyline has been aces. With a series of classic Unsanctioned, Chicago Street Fight and Last Man Standing matches, never has the chant “Fight Forever” been more apropos. Rounding on this year-long storyline was a reunion of sorts for #DIY at the tail-end of Gargano’s grueling catch match with Aleister Black on last week’s NXT TV. Without hesitation, Johnny Wrestling accepted his former best friend’s calling. 2019 could be a mega-year for #DIY as a heel team, and who knows — maybe these former brothers-in-arms can obtain the Tag Titles again in addition to both solo straps? Would make for one hell of a story, that’s for sure.
2. Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream
Honorable Mentions: Alpha vs. Omega, Okada vs. Omega.
***DEBUT OF THE YEAR***
1. Ronda Rousey
Every so often there is a debut that us a wrestling fans dream off: to make it in the WWE and the stay on top. As a champion in the Octagon as Ronda was, we always had a feeling she would eventually end up in the squared circle. And it’s worked due to her impeccable athletic talents and the gift of being a plain ol’ badass. With a booming in-ring presence and steady improvement — both in the ring and on the mic — Rousey has been able to carry the (in)arguably weaker of the two WWE Women’s divisions on her back. She’s been so good, her work has even inspired “The Man” to drop the SD title in search of bigger and better things, as we’ll soon see at the Royal Rumble. It has been fun watching the “Rowdy” one grow as the WWE Superstar; here’s to her keeping it up.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Riddle.
***OVERUSED MOVE OF THE YEAR***
Far removed from Noah’s Naomichi Marufiji, or Sugar Shane Helms’s double knee finisher or even Chris Jericho’s famed Y2J finisher — what was once a visual treat and a deadly move has been overused so much it’s almost a weak front grapple preset for generic wrestling set #1. One episode of IMPACT Wrestling (a now much better product than a year ago, mind you) or SmackDown Live and a surplus of all-too inspired lucha/spot-monkey doin’ these stomach kneebusters will surely urge you to start the new wrestling drinking game (#CodebreakCity). Thankfully we didn’t have to suffer though Codebreaker Parties.. yet.
Honorable Mentions: Destroyer, Suicide Dive, V-Trigger, Cutter.
***WRESTLER OF THE YEAR***
1. Will Ospreay
I’ve always been fond of Will Ospreay as a super athlete who could do things in the ring that no one (but arguably Ricochet) can do. But it’s been a joy to watch the growth of Ospreay as this high-spot driven super junior attraction into a full-fledged heavyweight marquee talent. Submissions, selling, and psychology: who knew Ospreay had it in him? Hell, he even got a 4+ match out of fucking Taichi. Os’ tremendous year-long growth initially had us more concerned for his health than match quality; the Aussie took too many stupid/dangerous bumps no one ever should, nearly cracking his skull during a Spanish Fly spot on the apron in a classic with Marty Scurll at Dontaku. He miraculously recovered (we think) and Ospreay had the greatest WrestleMania Weekend long performance of all time, with 5 of his 7(!!!) matches earning a 4-Bible score or higher.
(cont.) While things got a touch quieter following his 5-2 record at Best of the Super Juniors in June (where he was just ousted by Hiromu — who Ospreay had legendary matches with this year at New Beginning (Osaka) and Dominion, and Ishimori — who he saw on first day of BotSJ), that was all part of the plan. Evident by his match with fellow CHAOS pal Okada at the 46th Anniversary, Ospreay used his brief downtime (a.k.a. touring Britain’s indies and having bangers with everyone from Jordan Devlin to Jimmy Havoc to Chris Ridgeway to WALTER) to get ready for the heavies. Tall for a “junior” heavyweight, Ospreay was also disciplined enough to put the pounds necessary to compete with the Omega’s and Ibushi’s of the world. Our 2018 Wrestler of the Year finished 2018 just like that, teaming up with Hiroshi Tanahashi to have a 5-star classic againt the Golden Lovers just months after an incredible team-up with Ishii against the same team. For 2019, sky’s the limit for the Aerial Assassin.
2. Pete Dunne
Honorable Mentions: Kota Ibushi, Bandido, AJ Styles, Rey Fenix, Ricochet, Shinsuke Nakamura.