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Shine Them Trophies Up Real Good...
December 31, 2001

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


We've come to the time of the year when I question my "smart fan" status most aggressively.  The time of the year when fans who fancy themselves more intelligent than the average bear start handing out awards that often don't have anything to do with how wrestling fans, at large, perceive this business.

You know what I'm talking about...  the blantantly pro-Japan, pro-Benoit, anti-Hogan type sentiment that seems manditory if you are to call yourself a hardcore wrestling fan.  Not that there's anything really wrong with that; I'm near the top of the list of Chris Benoit's fans, but that doesn't mean I don't also see the shortcomings that prevent him from being truly worthy of "Wrestler of the Year" caliber honors.  Same thing with my general opinion that Hulk Hogan could retire without my missing him; but that doesn't mean that I'm not a thousand kinds of perplexed when he somehow manages to be "Most Deteriorated Wrestler" for six of the last 10 years.  How can one man deteriorate that much every year for so long and not be literally falling apart at the seams?

It just doesn't make sense the way the smarts sometimes do their year-end voting...  not that the markish mags handle it any better.  Inflated vote tallies and fixed categories (based on which wrestlers are willing to actually pose with their award plaque) do not provide any better barometer of who gave the most to the business over the year than the smarts' awards.

I whole-heartedly endorse the RSPW Achievement Awards as one of the few intelligent-but-not-overly-smart year-end awards listings.  Of course, with that said, I failed to actually case a ballot this year, what with all the hoopla that went into getting this new site launched on December 1.  Still, in a lot of significant ways, my own views are mirrored by the hundreds of ballots cast in the RSPW Awards.

But that won't stop me from handing out my own year-end honors right here and now...  maybe it's an uncalled-for conceit, but I get a kick out of passing judgment on an entire calendar year of TV rasslin'.  And even more of a kick out of passing judgment and having people actually reading and giving a damn what I think!

Unlike last year, I don't have my RSPW Awards ballot to repost...  so I'll use a slightly different format.  The RSPW Awards do have something like 50 categories, anyway, and that might be a bit of overkill for a nice one-page column like this...  plus, I'm not so sure that all those "Worst of" categories are really necessary.  Well, maybe they are necessary, but at Year's End, isn't it a bit more fun to focus on the positive than the negative?

So what I'll do is name a winner and two runners-up in the 25 or so categories that I deem most important (spanning calendar year 2001, not the RSPW Awards' November-to-November "voting year"), and then provide a few comments to flesh out my thought process.  Let's get started...

Runner Up:  Chris Jericho
Second Runner Up:  Kurt Angle

In determining a Wrestler of the Year, I've always tried to shy away from just voting for my most favorite wrestler.  Or even the wrestler who I thought had the best in-ring skills.  Or maybe the one wrestler who cuts the best promos.  This is the category where you need to put everything aside and figure out who delivered the Total Package.

And no, Lex Luger is not a threat to walk away with this award, be it this year or any other.

Steve Austin is once again The Man, as far as I'm concerned.  It took a few years to get back on top of the game, but in 2001, Austin did it all:  he got back to 100% after a debilitating injury, he was a heel (with good results), he was a babyface (with better results), he showcased his technical skills (against opponents like Benoit), he brawled like a madman (against HHH and others), and he cut excellent promos that spanned the realm from the hilarious to the deadly serious.  And while doing all of that, he held the WWF Title for about half the year and was the undeniable centerpiece of all of the WWF most important storylines.  No doubt, Austin is the MVP of the industry for 2001.

With an injury sidelining HHH for over half the year, it becomes impossible for me to vote for him over guys who contributed all year long...  runner up spots go to Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, who both got shots at headliner/champ status in 2001, and who also spent time bolstering the undercard.  Jericho gets the nod for the top runner up spot because his current WWF title reign and heel turn show so much promise; he could find himself winning this award in the future.  Angle was docked points in my book because of his shoddily handled babyface run, which seemed out of character a lot of the times; but he always delivered in the ring, and is now back to a more comfortable heel role, easily earning the #3 spot for 2001.

Runner Up:  Edge and Christian
Second Runner Up:  Hardy Boyz

My how times change...  a year or two ago, trying to pare down this category to just three worthy nominees was a chore.  This year, I'm resorting to including two teams that are no longer wrestling together as I scrounge to fill up my ballot.

The Duds get the top honors this year for sort of emulating what Austin did:  they worked both heel and face, they had quality matches around the horn, and they dominated the division for a good part of the year.  Plus, they're still working together as a team.

It was necessary for E&C to split, though it's sort of a shame...  together, Edge and Christian could be diabolically evil or outright hilarious.  They were so good that the fans forcibly turned them babyface by the end of their run together.  

I'm not as keen on the Hardys splitting up...  we just haven't seen enough personality out of them to justify them going solo.  Then again, their matches which were once so fresh and invigorating are now just another (admittedly high-risk) part of the weekly show.  Something fresh might be in order, but splitting up the team may not be it.  Still, name me one other tandem that delivered as much or as frequently as the Hardys did...  they get the #3 spot.

I had half a mind to vote for the Island Boyz (WWF developmental talents working in the HWA), who are downright impressive...  but that would be an overly selfish "smart mark" type thing to do, and didn't I just get done saying I wasn't gonna do that?

Runner Up:  Chris Jericho
Second Runner Up:  Triple H

Nobody on this list was an active heel for a full 12 months, but these are the three guys who did the best job of being hatable when they were called upon.

Angle's months-long span as a babyface was necessitated by the structure of the WWF vs. Alliance storyline, and it was easily the span of time that provided some of Angle's more forgettable performances during his WWF run (or, in the case of the stupid milk truck and bridge vignettes, performances that we wish we could forget but which are indelibly etched into our brains).  Luckily, that run was bookended by superlative heelish runs both starting the year and closing it out.  Angle gets the top honors this year for adding another layer to his heel character, which always was (and continues to be) a bit on the goofy side, but which now features a definite undertone of malice.

I'd wanted to see it for months...  hell, we're coming up on the one year anniversary of the start of my 2001 Fantasy Booking, in which a Chris Jericho heel turn was a key point.  But the reality of Jericho as a heel has turned out to be well worth waiting for.  His cocky asshole character is working perfectly, and his chemistry with Ric Flair to close out the year has been remarkable.  The sky's the limit for Jericho as a villain.

Triple H, although only working for about 5 months this year, is still the master of forcing fans to hate him.  He's a bad-ass in the ring, he's banging the boss' daughter, and backstage he wields all kinds of political clout.  We should LOVE this guy.  But he still gets us to boo him, even after a few teased face turns.  But I have a feeling that fan favorite status is gonna stick when he comes back next week... no matter how hard he tries to stop it.

Runner Up:  Steve Austin
Second Runner Up:  Rob Van Dam

If there's a single no-brainer in year-end voting, this is it.  The Rock gets the biggest reactions from the smallest things, be it an eyebrow, a right hand with a little extra sauce on it, or a ready-to-pounce stance behind a groggy opponent.  It's such an impressive thing, I don't even feel a further need to justify my vote here.

Austin, though spending the middle half of the year as a heel, was at his best during the opening and closing months of the year.  The near-Pavlovian response that his presence generates is best utilized when Austin's playing the fan favorite, and it showed, especially over the last few months.  Austin's still got it, and the fact that "What?" hasn't already fizzled as a catchphrase is all the proof you should need.

RVD may have opened people's eyes with red-hot matches early in his WWF stint, but he rapidly moved past the "Hardy Heat" (in which people get fired up only for the spots in matches where you may kill yourself) to become a bona fide babyface phenomenon.  Thumbs pointing to self and calling yourself by your initials has even become a fad on the ever-fashionable pro bowling circuit!

Runner Up:  Jeff Hardy
Second Runner Up:  Shane McMahon

Speaking of RVD, here's the one category where he gets the win instead of just an honorable mention.  While Van Dam seems to have slightly pared down his moveset from the ECW days, he does a better job setting up spots.  And plus, fans are also more familiar with his arsenal, which increases the impact of each move in their eyes.  Toss in a healthy dose of innovation and the fact that nobody moves around the ring quite like RVD, and you've got yourself the best flyer of 2001.

Jeff Hardy takes insane chances, too, and is probably the industry's master of the show-stealing highspot, especially if its some kind of unique gimmick match.  An easy choice for #2.

Shane McMahon also has that "show stealer" quality about him...  but he only uses it once or twice a year.  Shane borrowed RVD's "Van Terminator" with tremendous results at WM this year, and then dropped jaws everywhere with his insane bumps against Kurt Angle at King of the Ring.  There are certainly better wrestlers whose skill at leaping off the top rope slaughter Shane's...  but as long as "high flyer" is synonymous with "high risk," this is a category in which Shane is a deserving runner up.

Runner Up:  Chris Benoit
Second Runner Up:  Lance Storm

By working in so many main events, Angle usually has to have the longer, more brawling-oriented style of matches that the WWF likes to put on top...  but that does not detract from the fact that Angle is just about the best at piecing together crisp, convincing-looking wrestling moves that the industry has to offer.  Convincing-looking punches is one thing...  being able to put together chain wrestling spots that both look good and which seem plausible is another.  Angle excels at both, with the latter being a particularly impressive feat.  It's what earns him top honors in this category this year.

"Crisp" is a word that also applies to Chris Benoit.  When Benoit does a move, it always looks like it connects, and it always looks like it really hurts.  And of course, it didn't hurt that he spent part of the year feuding with Angle, which allowed them both to showcase these skills and have a few killer matches.

Lance Storm doesn't get the same showcase as Benoit and Angle, but from his longer WCW PPV outings earlier in the year and the few times the WWF has actually utilized him right, it's obvious that he's got the promise to put on the same caliber matches as either of the two men rated ahead of him.

Runner Up:  Triple H
Second Runner Up:  Kurt Angle

Wrestling matches rarely have anything to do with actual wrestling any more, as I'm sure Lou Thesz would be glad to point out to you.  Especially at the main event level, things tend to degenerate into something that deserves the more generic term "fight."  If only the fix weren't in and both guys were co-operating to try to entertain the fans.

But that's not the point.  The point is that these sprawling, brawling fights are a staple of the business nowadays.  There is an art to keeping the fans hooked for 30 minutes of glorified kicking, stomping, and punching, and I think right now, Steve Austin is the best at it.  His character is perfectly suited to the barroom brawl style of match, which is another bonus.  But mostly, Austin's innate sense of how to structure these brawls is what gets him this award.  A Steve Austin main event is practically guaranteed to deliver.

Almost the exact same things can be said about Triple H.  He just comes in a distant second because his participation was limited to five months this year.

And Kurt Angle?  It might seem odd to put the #1 Technical Wrestler on this list as the #3 Brawler...  but watch that street fight against Shane McMahon and tell me he doesn't deserve it.  Angle may be the best and most versatile in-ring performer in the business right now.

Runner Up: Steve Austin
Second Runner Up:  Tajiri

I'm not sure how much justification I have to do in so purely subjective a category.  These are simply my three favorite wrestlers to watch.  If, for some fluke reason, a wrestling company saw fit to promote its shows with only three wrestlers, these would be the three that would make me want to watch their shows.

Runner Up:  Trish Stratus
Second Runner Up:  Test

It's hard to tell exactly when it happened...  ECW Rhino never really impressed me, though I admit to being blinded by the fact that Paul Heyman had to over-push the young star as his talent roster was raided.  And I just HATE it when a company tries to shove something down your throat.  So I had that against Rhino, which may have blinded me to improvements he made in 2000 and in the latter stages of his ECW run.

But upon starting with the WWF, and upon changing the spelling of his name, Rhyno rapidly displayed promise that I'd never seen before.  Without that forced "main event" status hanging over him, Rhyno was free to develop more organically.  His matches were solid, and as he started to display an in-ring charisma that never surfaced in ECW, fans responded to his work more and more.  I was dead wrong about Rhyno, who is poised to become a major player when he returns from injury in 2002.

I put Trish on this list as much for her actual improvement as for the fact that I'm impressed with her desire to improve.  Looking as great as she does, Trish could easily skate by selling magazines, posters, and calendars without ever having a real wrestling match.  When "wrestling" is called for, she could just partake in evening gown matches or gravy bowl matches.  But no, she wants to get better and wants to be a real wrestler.  There's still work to be done on that front, but she got noticeably better as 2001 progressed, and it seems like she'll keep on getting better in 2002.

I'm not sure as though Test did a whole lot in terms of adding moves or honing his technical skill in 2001.  But what he did do is slowly find his niche in terms of a moveset that fits him (adding the big boot marks his first convincing finisher in his 3 year career) and developing his charisma/character.  It's the first real forward progress on Project Test in about 2 years... 

Runner Up:  Kaientai's "Evil" Promos
Second Runner Up:  Stone Cold says "What?"

It's probably a tribute to the more realistic nature of the wrestling business in the past few years...  but genuinely all-pervasive "gimmicks" seem more and more a mid-card thing now.  The guys on top are too busy trying to "be themselves" and are intent on staying fresh by avoiding leaning on the crutches of catchphrases and gimmicks.

So that leaves The Hurricane as my favorite gimmick of 2001.  The possibilities for "mild mannered reporter" Gregory Helms and his alter-ego are limited a bit by the goofy nature of the gimmick, but for now, it's funny, it gets a reaction from fans, and it should be able to set up lots of amusing undercard storylines.

Kaientai's on the shelf now, but the dubbed in promos they did over the first half of the year were downright hilarious.  Maybe it's an overly selfish way to determine this category, but they get the #2 spot mostly because theirs was the only wrestling gimmick of the year that inspired me to buy their T-shirt!

OK, so that thing I said about main eventers staying away from abusing catchphrases needs to be amended...  Steve Austin's "What?" has taken off over the last 2 months, and was a catchphrase-in-waiting for a few months prior to that (as Austin concluded his heel run).  To Austin's credit, he himself isn't over-using it...  the fans are.  Which is probably just cuz they love it.  Can't blame 'em for having fun, I guess.  

Runner Up:  Christian's Solo Con-Chair-To
Second Runner Up:  Dudley Boyz's 3-D

As always, my voting in this category is one half for creativity and one half for making me believe it really hurts.  Tajiri gets top honors because, even if I know in my head that he gets that sound by slapping his pleather pants, his kicks look and sound like the most vicious thing in the world.  I know "Tajiri's Kicks" is probably a bit broad for this category, but I'm sorry...  if you pinned me down, I would vote for the Dropkick of Woe as my favorite (and boy am I glad to see that one back in the arsenal in the last few weeks!).

Christian's one-man con-chair-to is in at #2 more on the strength of its creativity (although it's another move I wouldn't chose to be on the receiving end of).  Taking an established tag team move and re-inventing it for his solo career, Christian created for himself a definite "go-to" move.  It's a shame that Christian's descent to the mid-card has meant he hasn't gotten to use it as much over the last few months...

I put the 3-D on the list mostly because I have great fun sitting back trying to spot the move coming before the Dudleys actually deliver it.  Live arena crowds do the same thing, too, and one of my favorite things is when Bubba and D-Von completely fake 'em out.  The Duds obviously put a lot of time coming up with creative ways into their finisher, and it pays off.  They can seemingly hit the move "out of nowhere," which makes the finisher all the more valuable and convincing.

BEST MATCH OF THE YEAR:  TRIPLE H vs. STEVE AUSTIN (Three Falls Match, 2/25/01)
Runner Up:  Austin/Triple H vs. Benoit/Jericho (Tag Titles, 5/21/01)
Second Runner Up (tie):  Benoit/Jericho vs. Hardys vs. Dudleys vs. Edge/Christian (Tag Titles, TLC Rules, taped 5/22/01)
Second Runner Up (tie):  Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon (street fight rules, 6/24/01)

The three falls match between Austin and HHH at No Way Out was pretty much penciled in as my Match of the Year after my second viewing of it on the night of 2/25.  It's rare that a match is so good that I want to immediately re-watch it, but this one fit the bill.  Epic in scope, it featured non-stop action, and also signaled to the world that Steve Austin was really back.  Austin hadn't really seemed in his old form, but after 4 months back to knock off the rust, he really delivered in this match against HHH.

My only gripe about the match was a finish that seemed a bit weak to me, at first (both guys get knocked out, and HHH falls on top to get the win).  On the second viewing, it wasn't that important, and 9 months later, in hindsight, it's barely a footnote to a match that was otherwise mind-blowing.

Three months after waging war, Austin and HHH found themselves as partners and tag champs in the year's second best match, a RAW main event title defense against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit.  It was Benoit and Jericho's break-out match, as the duo topped the Fed's top two established stars to gain the titles.  Just awesome in it's simplicity:  no gimmicks or anything, just four great wrestlers telling a compelling story in the ring.

I could not decide on my #3 pick for this category, though it was easy to pare it down to two candidates.  So I voted for a tie.  First is the counter-point match to the runner-up match of the year:  a day after winning the tag titles, Benoit and Jericho defended them in another spectacular match.  This time, it was a gimmick-laden TLC match against three other teams.  It was an entirely different type of contest, but it was still incredibly entertaining.  Benoit got KO'ed early in the match, only to come back and make the dramatic save for his team.  If he hadn't gotten injured, this might have been the match people pointed to as Benoit's "breakthrough" match en route to main event status (as it stands, Benoit only got one main event before being sidelined for the rest of the year).  In any case, May was one damn fine month for good wrestling matches; Austin and Benoit even had some great singles matches the week after these two tag matches!

My other #3:  the Angle/Shane street fight from King of the Ring.  I know I went in not expecting a whole lot, other than MAYBE one of Shane's trademark Captain Insano bumps.  Instead, we got a non-stop 25 minutes of incredible action.  And a whole SLEW of Shane's Captain Insano bumps.  The shots through the glass were unbelievable...  and what can you say about the match-ending top rope Olympic Slam?  Just awesome...

Runner Up:  WWF vs. WCW/ECW
Second Runner Up:  Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

The Rock vs. Chris Jericho feud was handled perfectly...  the subtlety of the Jericho heel turn was exactly the right direction to go, too.  Rather than do a big blustery angle where Rock and Jericho become blood enemies in a single split second, their hostility built slowly and believably over months before Jericho finally went full-on heel.  That festering hatred even allowed for the WWF to tease us at times, with the Rock acting heelish, giving another added dimension to the feud.  Toss in good matches between the two, and you've got yourself the Feud of the Year.

The WWF vs. WCW/ECW Alliance feud should have been the easy #1.  It was everything fans had ever hoped for, but somehow, the Fed blew it.  It could be the most-bungled storytelling of the year.  But it still was absolutely vital to the WWF's mid-year storylines, and still included a number of very memorable moments.  It does shock me that it wasn't even close to being #1 in this category, but I think it earns the #2 slot.  Barely.

It's probably quite telling that I've got Angle/Benoit in at #3...  much like the Rock/Jericho feud, this one has handled with subtlety rather than bluster.  Yep, I likes the slow build...  somebody should take a memo and deliver it to whoever is doing the Hardy vs. Hardy storyline.  Where as Rock vs. Jericho was a babyface vs. babyface feud that slowly built to a heel turn, the Angle/Benoit feud was a feud between two heels that slowly led to Benoit getting over as a babyface.  The killer matches these two had is also a big part of why I grant it runner up status...

Runner Up:  Lance Storm
Second Runner Up:  William Regal

It absolutely boggles my mind that D-Lo Brown is not being better utilized by the WWF.  It's now been years since D-Lo was (briefly) the IC Champ and the first man to really bring prestige to the Euro Title... the image most fans have is of a D-Lo Brown that was wearing a turban and hanging around with Tiger Ali Singh.  That is not the real D-Lo, and I hope fans get a chance to realize that in 2002.  The real D-Lo is a fantastic in-ring worker with the charisma it takes to be a major part of a promotion.  Whether it's karma for the whole thing with Droz or just flat out a poor judgment call by the WWF, D-Lo is the single most underrated wrestler at the national level.

You may think Lance Storm's lacking in the charisma department, even if he is an fantastic in ring worker.  I disagree:  his unique "anti-charisma" is actually something that I think he uses perfectly (in contrast to Steve Blackman, who really didn't have anything to bond himself with the audience).  Storm's got potential to be an upper level heel, and by necessity seemed on his way to that status in the latter days of WCW... but the Fed just hasn't done anything with him, yet.

I'm not sure if Regal should really get a vote in this category or not...  certainly he got so much TV time in 2001 that a case could be made that he was utilized plenty by the WWF.  But what I'm talking about here is Regal's in-ring ability, which was not showcased to great effect in 2001, and which was secondary to his commissionary and ass-kissing roles.  I'd love to see more of Regal in the ring in 2002.

Runner Up:  Undertaker/Kane vs. Kronik (Tag Titles, 9/23/01)
Second Runner Up:  Gimmick Battle Royal (4/1/01)

I know I said I'd shy away from voting in "Worst" categories, but these are just too easy to pass up.  It's rare to have a match be memorably bad with actual historical significance... but in 2001, we had TWO.

The Booker/Buff match was the first WCW match featured on WWF TV this year, and it tanked badly.  It's not like they went out there to stink up the place, but a combination of failing to adapt to a "WWF style" main event and a surly crowd meant instant death for this match.  It was slow, sloppy, and it became historically significant as the WWF rapidly re-assessed the direction of the WCW storyline.  In the short-term, Buff Bagwell got released, and in the long-term, all of WCW was turned heel to play into fan displeasure with the WCW product.

The Taker/Kane vs. Kronik match was another one that was so bad that it had instant ramifications.  Kronik had been hired by the WWF to flesh out the tag team roster, but this match resulted in their almost immediate dismissal (or rather, demotion to HWA in the case of Brian Adams).

I vote for the Gimmick Battle Royal at #3 not so much because it was so bad, but because it could have been better.  Don't get me wrong, it WAS bad, but so are any number of matches in a given year.  It was just a textbook case of missed opportunity.  I'm not saying I expected ***** wrestling action, but even the opportunity for some humor and nostalgia was missed.  And then the wrestling action was more in the minus-five-stars range...  Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund were hands-down the best performers in this "match."

Runner Up:  Chris Benoit Injured; Out for 9 months
Second Runner Up:  HHH Injured; Out for 6 months

Being without options kinda sucks for a wrestling fan...  I'm not even talking about the idea that the WWF, without competition, will dog it and deliver a subpar product to fans (an argument that may or may not be valid).  I'm just talking about the fact that there is now less diversity available to me as a guy who likes all different parts of the "sports entertainment" product.

Obviously I miss ECW a lot.  I miss WCW and Nitro, too; Monday nights are just not the same anymore.  But hell, I even miss WOW, which I only saw occassionally, but which usually gave me a laugh.

The WWF's virtual monopoly over the wrestling business is definitely the worst news of the year as far as I'm concerned.  Underneath that, it's a crapshoot...  all injuries and deaths are unfortunate, but in this case, I rank Benoit's at #2 simply because the timing was so bad.  Benoit was ready to break through, and now he'll have to start from scratch in 2002.  Being without HHH for six months sucked, too.

I appreciate the folks who voted for SportsLine shutting down WrestleLine in the RSPW awards, too....  I can't believe CRZ actually let those votes stand.  I thought wrestling awards should be limited to, you know, wrestling.  Not "meta-wrestling."

Runner Up:  Ivory
Second Runner Up:  Mike Sanders

I don't know why we don't just give up and rename this category "Best Wrestling Babe"...  a male hasn't won it since 1995 (Jim Cornette), and it doesn't seem likely that one will anytime soon.  The concept of the traditional wrestling manager is dead and buried, it seems.

For the second straight year, Stephanie McMahon earns this award, in my humble estimation.  Not only does her status as boss' daughter and wife of a top star open up tons of storyline possibilities that other seconds may not have, but her performance is usually spot-on.  She has mastered the art of being totally obnoxious, which is the staple of any heel manager.

For the most part, Ivory wound up being the best, most-marketable member of the RTC, especially as it wrapped up in 2001.  There was never really any motivation for most of the members, but Ivory's promos always made sense and got fans fired up about hating the RTC.  It's gotta be near impossible for a super hot chick to get an audience of (predominantly) males between the ages of 12 and 34 to hate her, but Ivory makes it look easy.

Mike Sanders is one of the few vote-getters on this entire list to earn his honors primarily for services rendered in WCW (the REAL WCW, before the buy-out).  As a spokesperson/manager, he was already being compared favorably to a young Ric Flair.  He continued primarily as a mouthpiece when relocated to the HWA, and still excels in that role to this day.

Runner Up:  Joey Styles
Second Runner Up:  Scott Hudson

Another no-brainer category...  Ross doesn't worry as much about getting the moves right and calling the play-by-play, but he's adapted to focusing on the emotion and story of a match so well that he still the best in the business as far as I'm concerned.

Styles and Hudson get runner up spots basically just because they were the best their respective companies had to offer before going belly-up.

Runner Up:  Bobby Heenan
Second Runner Up:  N/A

Paul Heyman re-invented the purely heel color man role...  that's not to say others hadn't still been doing it, but Heyman actually made it WORK.  Funny, obnoxious, despicable, frustrating...  and all of it seeming to be perfectly in character.  A thousand times more entertaining than Jerry Lawler, I think...

Heenan was the best part of the gimmick battle royal at WM17, and was one of the handful of highlights at the single WOW PPV early in the year.  Who knows if Heenan could still be top shelf if in the spotlight every week?  But in 2001, his limited appearances were always golden.

I couldn't even come up with a third place finisher...  which is mostly a testament to how bad it is to only have one wrestling company with TV outlets.  Still, I guess I could give a "courtesy vote" to Tazz or Jerry Lawler if I really wanted to; neither is really bad...  but I don't do courtesy votes.

Runner Up:  Steve Austin
Second Runner Up:  Triple H

The Rock is incredible.  He's got a billion catchphrases, but can go weeks between using them because he's so creative in the way he puts together his promos.  Whether its an extended "theme" interview or a seemingly more off-the-cuff backstage confrontation, the Rock's got unmatched verbal skills.

Austin and HHH...  both are good, but both are significantly behind the Rock in terms of pure verbal mastery.  I give the nod to Austin simply for putting in a full 12 months this year.  

Runner Up:  Ric Flair buys half-interest in WWF
Second Runner Up:  Chris Jericho slowly becomes more and more hostile towards the Rock

It was the year's biggest drop-your-jaw, make-you-stand-up-and-cheer moment...  the night when ECW returned and then joined forces with WCW was an unforgettable one.  Hell, it was two moments.  The first was the actual reunion of all the ECW guys (topped off by a killer Heyman promo), then second was the unexpected unification of WCW and ECW to close out the show.  Great stuff.

The night Ric Flair walked out on RAW and introduced himself as the man who bought half interest in the WWF (bankrolling Shane and Stephanie's whole Invasion concept in the process) was another big night.  Not only was it great to see Flair back on TV, but it was a situation in which his appearance set up TONS of great potential storylines for the future.

Jericho's slow heel turn and simmering hostility towards the Rock was the year's other big highlight from a storytelling perspective.  As I outlined above, I loved the whole slow-burn, and much like the Flair thing, the potential for the future is off the charts, as Jericho keeps lighting it up as a top heel.

Runner Up:  HWA
Second Runner Up:  WOW

Duh.  The WWF is the ONLY wrestling company, in most important aspects.  If limiting oneself to domestic companies with national TV outlets, they are, anyway.

This category is more about who I DIDN'T vote for, though.  ECW existed for exactly one televised show in 2001, which I think disqualifies them... and while WCW lasted for three whole months, it was really bad most of the time, a company literally waiting to die.

So I vote for the HWA (which is about the best indie out there, and which does have TV here locally in southwest Ohio) and WOW (which put on a non-shitty PPV and actually did have a national syndication network for the first part of 2001) for the runners-up here.

Runner Up:  SmackDown!
Second Runner Up:  Nitro

Again, this is a category that loses meaning if there's really only one company to vote for.  RAW and SmackDown! are the best in the industry right now, no doubt...  RAW gets my top vote just cuz it's live and I like not knowing what's gonna happen next.

Nitro, while it existed, was the only other show in the industry that approached "must see" status every week.

Runner Up:  WrestleMania X-7 (4/1/01)
Second Runner Up:  No Way Out (2/25/01)

The one piece of indispensable videotape from 2001 is the night the WWF's purchase of WCW was made public.  For one three-hour block of time, RAW and Nitro entertained and shocked.  From the historic "last Nitro ever" vibe that included Booker T defeating Scott Steiner and a Ric Flair vs. Sting match to the swerve of having Shane McMahon actually in a WCW ring to steal his dad's thunder to the bizzaro-world feel of seeing Vince McMahon in his locker room on RAW openly talking about WCW stars, it was a night I'll never forget.

WrestleMania X-7 is the more traditional type show to vote for in this category.  Not nearly as historic as the simulcast that preceded it by a week, it was still the most entertaining PPV of the year.  Rife with fantastic matches, it also managed a compelling surprise pay-off, with Steve Austin turning heel to join forces with Vince McMahon.

In a lot of ways, No Way Out was a one match card, but if you read my comments for Match of the Year, you know it was a damned good match.  Enough to carry the show to the #3 spot here.

Runner Up:  WWF Shuts Down XFL
Second Runner Up:  WWF Runs Live SmackDown! on September 13

The WWF didn't know it at the time, but not only did they get some fresh blood for the creative team by hiring Paul Heyman in early 2001, but they wound up getting a top notch color commentator who stepped in and quickly found his voice after the abrupt departure of Jerry Lawler.  I can't imagine the WWF without Heyman in 2001.

The shut-down of the XFL resulted in one of my bigger sighs of relief all year.  The XFL was a noble experiment, I'm sure...  but having an upstart football league rammed down my throat during my WRESTLING TV shows was a gigantic pain in the ass.  The XFL will not be missed.

The WWF's live SmackDown on 9/13, just two days after the terrorist attacks in NYC and DC, is worthy of honors, too.  It may be purely selfish to say so, but that was a time when I just wanted to get back to feeling NORMAL, and in some small way, watching two hours of wrestling instead of two hours of planes flying into buildings helped.  Ballsy move by the WWF, and one which I'm sure a lot of people STILL disagree with.  Not me, though.


Best Movie of 2001:  Memento
I like it when a movie can make you think, surprise the hell out of you, and still make perfect sense in the end.  That's a perfect description for Memento.  Lots of potential for viewing and re-viewing.  Honorable mention:  Fellowship of the Ring, which was damned sweet.

Best Album (That Actually Got Some Mainstream Attention) of 2001:  Weezer's Apparently Self-Titled Green Album
It's all of 30 minutes long, but it's got 30 minutes more of listenable music than the vast majority of what got released in 2001.  It's good to have Weezer back writing frightfully-catchy rock songs.  Honorable mention:  Tenacious D's self-titled debut record.

Best Album (That Never Saw the Light of Day on MTV) of 2001:   "Choreographed Man of War" by Robert Pollard and the Soft Rock Renegades
Like I said, you probably never heard of it.  It's good, though.  

Best Album That I Bought Used in 2001:  "Pistolero" by Frank Black and the Catholics
I really liked the Pixies, so I have no idea what took me so long trying out this particular Frank Black project.  Super cool record now that I've finally picked it up.

Best Videogame:  Gran Turismo 3
I hardly ever play videogames, but I contributed significantly to my housemate's PlayStation 2 being on 22 hours a day during the fall, all because of Turismo.  Man, I can't even count the hours I put in getting my Viper jacked to the gills!

Best DVD:  "Star Trek: the Motion Picture, Director's Cut"
The first Star Trek movie wasn't necessarily all that great, but the completely re-done version on this DVD is a significant improvement (without even getting into all the extras).  It's rare when a "special edition" DVD is actually deviates this much from previously released versions, so a big time Thumbs Up from me.

Best Book I Read:  "Shelley's Heart" by Charles McCrarry
I know it's a couple years old, but it's some of the best fiction I've read in a long, long while.  Beat the pants off the Harry Potter books I was conned into reading, anyway (I'm sure they're awesome for 10 year olds, but grown adults going nuts over them?  A little perspective, please...).

Best Promotional Move (Bar and Tavern Division):  Arrogant Bastard Ale Now Available in Dayton
I started on the Arrogant Bastard just cuz I liked the name; I kept on making my brother import it from California for me cuz I really liked the taste.  Now it's finally available in my hometown.  Yeah!

Best Promotional Move (Major League Baseball Division):  George Steinbrenner Won't Lose the World Series Ever Again
How cool is it to have David Wells and Jason Giambi in the same clubhouse?  Then again, I'm a Yankees fan, so I'm probably biased...

Best Shrimp Cocktail:  St. Elmo's (Indianapolis)
I went in with mild nasal congestion.  I came out with second degree horseradish burns.  And loved every second of it.

Best Late Night Talk Show:  Daily Show with Jon Stewart
It's been neck and neck for a few years, but Stewart definitely leap-frogged ahead of Dave and Conan this year.

Best Sports-Oriented Website:  ESPN.com
Frick you, SportsLine!

Best Fantasy Football Team Ever:  the Ohio Onslaught (until Dante Culpepper got injured just in time for me to get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs after a near-spotless regular season)
You can't win even a half-assed Yahoo! public league where half the owners gave up in Week 2 with Jake Plummer as your starting QB!

Best Time to End This Column:  Right Now

I close by simply hoping that your 2001 was a good one, and wishing you a Happy New Year.  We'll be back to a normal schedule on Wednesday, and shortly after that, you can look for the now-traditional Big Ass OO Year in Review.

See you then.....


Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.


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