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Done, Done, Onto the Next One...
December 30, 2002

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


At year's end, just about everybody who can claim to possess even the slightest semblance of an "audience" will step up and regale said audience with a definitive listing of the best and the worst of the past 12 months, rarely stopping to wonder if five thousand "best of" lists are really necessary on a given subject matter or if they possess any unique qualifications to add meaningfully to the plethora of lists.

So just go ahead and lump me in with everybody else.

In an already saturated and fragmented field like pro wrestling commentary, I'm not going to pretend to be some sort of breath of fresh air.  At best, I hope to sell you on my personal opinions on the best of the year as being a "populist," but still intelligent, set of awards.  I'm not a tape trader, insistent that the only watchable pro wrestling takes place in Japan, nor do I obsess over backstage minutiae and let it affect my enjoyment of the on-screen product...  but you won't see me pull a PWI (or perhaps the better example of dumbed-down and rigged "awards" might be WWE.com in this day and age?) and have something like Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock contending for  Match of the Year, either.  

Using my ballot for the already-completed RSPW Achievement Awards as a starting point, I'm gonna just hop on the Year End Bandwagon, and present to you my top choices in about 40 categories.  Note that I did eliminate a few of the RSPW Award categories (just because I'm not 100% sure that we need THAT many "Worst of" categories), and that I juggled a few runner-up choices based on the fact that I want this document to represent all of calendar year 2002 (where as the RSPW awards cover a November 1 to November 1 voting year).

Here goes with the 117th of an estimated 231 "Best of 2002" things you'll be bombarded with this year:

1st Runner Up:  Chris Jericho
2nd Runner Up:  Edge

Even without winning the WWE Title to close out the year, Kurt Angle would have been a no-brainer for this award.  "Wrestler of the Year" doesn't just go to a top in-ring performer.  It doesn't just go to an entertaining personality.  It goes someone who combines performance and personality, and then displays those skills in important matches and storylines and plays a key role in his company for the entire year.  In 2002, guys like the Rock, Steve Austin, Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Benoit -- the other likely contenders -- were only active for 6-8 months out of the year.  Kurt Angle put in a solid 12 months of work, performing at an incredibly high level all along.

Even with an eroding knee, Angle continued to put on the company's best matches, in both singles and tag settings.  His interviews and in-ring charisma kept him solidly a heel, and kept fans solidly entertained at all times.  His achievements in 2002 included not just another WWE Title, but less obvious ones, such as being instrumental to the feud that "made" Edge into a viable superstar.  Nobody did what Kurt Angle did in 2002, and certainly, those who flirted with it didn't come anywhere near doing it for 12 straight months.

Chris Jericho as the top runner-up is a pretty easy call, too.  Jericho was the Undisputed WWE Champ for the first quarter of 2002, and although plagued by some of the Fed's worst storytelling, comported himself well in the role.  As the year closed out, Jericho was revving his heel engines again, having re-ascended to main event status (in a 6-way World Title match at Survivor Series) and started a feud with Shawn Michaels to break him out of the tag division.  And if the worst that can be said about Jericho's year is that he was kind of spinning his wheels during the middle part of 2002, it's small criticism, because that period did yield some very good matches against Rob Van Dam.  Regardless of his placement on the card, Jericho always delivered on the stick and in the ring.  And like Angle, Jericho also gets bonus points for doing it all year long, without any significant absences.

Edge is definitely a 2002 success story.  Long accused of having "The Look," Edge was still basically a guy going onto his fourth year of also having The Unrealized Singles Potential.  Perhaps the biggest irony of the year is that after a break-out feud with Kurt Angle made him a singles star, Edge almost immediately put that stardom to use by... going back to tag teaming, helping to legitimize the SD! brand tag team division.  In addition to great matches against Angle, Edge added more great work to his resume when he started a full time tag team with Rey Mysterio in August.  If there was still an IC Title, Edge would be a go-to guy in that division, poised to move up to the next level.

1st Runner Up:  Booker T and Goldust
2nd Runner Up:  Edge and Rey Mysterio

The 12-full-months-of-service heuristic, unfortunately, simply does not apply here.  The Fed, due mostly to the brand split shuffling the rosters, did not have a single tag team working together for all of 2002.  Left to pick from the partial qualifiers, Benoit and Angle easily stand out as the best.

Their ringwork is simply unparalleled, and any further discussion on that front would be superfluous.  What really notches the award for them, however, was the unique storyline that brought them together as a team.  Feuding over the summer months, they were ordered to work together, their pairing of skills legitimizing the newly created SD! brand tag titles.  The combination of animosity, mutual respect, and shared desire to prove their superiority made them very compelling to watch.  Even if it was only for the last 5 months or so of the year.

Booker and Goldust actually worked together for about 8 months, and as such, are probably ranking as the WWE tag team with the longest unbroken tenure working together.  Starting as a joke/comic relief gag, they played well off each other in backstage skits, and also possessed the skills necessary to get in the ring and entertain, too.  Despite the often slap-dash booking on RAW, the fans didn't give up on the duo, and they are now reigning as that brand's tag champs.

Second runner up is basically a pick 'em... I picked Edge and Rey over Los Guerreros simply because I think they were involved in the greater number of very good and important matches.  

1st Runner Up:  Paul Heyman
2nd Runner Up:  Chris Jericho

OK, so I vote Kurt Angle as Wrestler of the Year and as half of the Tag Team of the Year.  And I know I'm not alone in thinking he deserves those honors.  So how do you explain that tens of thousands of fans at live events will still chant "You Suck" at him during his entrance theme?  Simple:  because he's the best villain in the business today.  He can be a cocky, self-assured asshole; or he can snap and morph into a monster who wants to break your ankle; or he can even be a schmuck, deserving of our laughter.  Angle knows how to press the buttons that short circuit our appreciation of his skill and make us want to boo him all the more.

Heyman, as a non-wrestler, has an uphill battle to be considered for an award like this, but he earns it.  For five months, as fans grew appreciative of the monster-in-training that is Brock Lesnar, Heyman's skill on the mic kept the fans from getting TOO vocally behind Lesnar.  When Heyman switched plans and went with Big Show, he was vital to the resuscitation of Show's main event status.  Now, after a Kurt Angle face turn was teased, he's also lending his talents to the rebuilding of Angle's heel persona.  Fantastic work by Paul E. this year.

Jericho is like Angle:  he knows what buttons to press so that most fans simply react (instead of digesting what was said, and realizing, "Hey, that was pretty damned clever").  Even when used as part of throw-away backstage bits, Jericho can always be counted on to deliver top-shelf material.

1st Runner Up:  Rob Van Dam
2nd Runner Up:  Hulk Hogan

Nobody gets as much reaction for doing as little as The Rock.  Even if only active for about half the year, he gets this award, hands down.  I may not personally like it, but when an arena full of fans go nuts at something like an eyebrow or the Jimmy Leg, it's not easy to dismiss.

The only other guy who can come close to matching the sheer Pavlovian nature of fan response to the Rock is Hulk Hogan.  He gets the three-spot here in honor of also getting the most out of doing the least, even though his tenure in 2002 was even more brief than Rocky's.

In between, Rob Van Dam sneaks in.  The "Holy Shit" nature of his offensive arsenal fosters big reactions during his matches, and his name and initials are easy to chant.  Despite other attempts in 2002 (HHH, Kane, Booker), he really was the RAW brand's most bankable babyface.

1st Runner Up:  Chris Benoit
2nd Runner Up:  Eddie Guerrero

The best overall worker must be able to do it all, and Angle is a synthesis of technical wrestler, brawler, and when necessary, even a touch of high-flying risk taker.  He does it with a crispness and a plausibility that makes his matches a pleasure to watch.

Benoit is just about Angle's equal in the ring, but was limited to about a half-year of active duty, placing him in 2nd place.  Eddie Guerrero, re-emerging on the scene during the spring, displayed a similar combination of many skills -- but with more emphasis on the high flying over the brawling -- in his matches.

1st Runner Up:  AJ Styles
2nd Runner Up:  Eddie Guerrero

A difficult category to quantify, "Best Flyer" to me does not necessarily mean packing in high spot after high spot or being the innovator of wacky new moves.  What it means is cleanly executing an arsenal of high-flying moves for maximum impact within a match.  So even if he's not the non-stop highspot machine he was when he won this award in the mid 90s, the fact that Rey is so smooth and rarely flubs his now-well-timed spots makes him a shoe-in here.

AJ Styles essentially represents the TNA X Division here, getting the nod because he came the closest (in the handful of matches I saw, anyway) to adding that timing and smoothness to the admittedly jaw-dropping moveset of the TNA spot machines.  And Eddie Guerrero integrates a lot of lucha-style elements into a technically sound arsenal so effectively that I give him the #3 spot.

1st Runner Up:  Kurt Angle
2nd Runner Up:  William Regal

Although Angle is the honored amateur wrestler, that unique label of "technical wrestler" in the professional sense of the sport is still best epitomized by Benoit.  Benoit simply does the best of emphasizing a moveset that looks crisp and realistic, lending plausibility to an exhibition that we all know is rigged.  And in Regal's case, his ability to wrestle a plausible style is remarkable to the point that it sometimes hurts him: since realistic fights aren't usually as much fun to watch as the rigged once, his style is often perceived of as boring.

1st Runner Up:  Al Snow
2nd Runner Up:  Steve Austin

Again, this is a category with no clear-cut set of criteria.  One set you might use is trying to judge who can tell the best story and maintain the most intensity using little more than punches and kicks.  Because WWE main events often stretch out over 30 minutes, being able to pepper in spots with punching and kicking becomes and invaluable tool, one that I think HHH excels the most at.  His body language and pacing during those stretches -- not to mention his near-at-hand sledgehammer -- landed HHH in a number of pretty good bloody main event matches in 2002.
Al Snow makes the list for another reason:  in garbage-y type brawls, he's always a lot of fun to watch.  Entertaining and creative without usually getting too cute for his own good, Snow would be the one guy I'd want front and center if WWE were to restart a Hardcore Division.  Austin rounds out the list for many of the same reasons HHH tops it.

1st Runner Up:  Rey Mysterio
2nd Runner Up:  Tajiri

As is my custom, I feel very little need to justify my voting in a category as subjective as "most favorite."

1st Runner Up:  Matt Hardy
2nd Runner Up:  Brock Lesnar

This is my second year in a row giving this award to Trish, but it's only this year when it sounds like other people are pretty much in agreement with me.  To be honest, I think a lot of Trish's improvement in the ring did come in 2001, and that what we saw in 2002 were incremental -- but vital -- additions to her skill set combined with a general smoothness/comfort level that seems new, too.  Most important, I think Trish learned a type of in-ring charisma that allows her to connect more than ever with an audience that has previously only paid close attention for the impending climax of bra and panties matches.  I know a couple of times this year, I caught myself watching Trish get savaged by Victoria or something and thinking "Jeez, I bet this is what those squealing teenage girls feel like when they have to watch Jeff Hardy get beaten to a bloody pulp."  Not even when the heel Dudleys were at the height of their putting-babes-through-tables phase did it ever strike me to be all soft and sympathetic like that.

Similarly, Matt Hardy may have always had the skills, but found a way to break through to another level in 2002.  With improved promos and an effective heel singles gimmick, Matt proved himself to be demonstrably more entertaining Hardy this year.  Lesnar gets third, although I grant that he may not really have learned or improved over the year so much as he slowly doled out new moves and verbal skills over time after debuting as a one-dimensional monster.

1st Runner Up:  Big Show
2nd Runner Up:  Scott Hall

With Edge now solidly a singles star, Test is unrivaled for the honor of Most Consecutive Years of Having "Potential" Without Actually Showing Us Much of Anything.  I know I feel that Test got screwed in the fall-out of the marriage-to-Steph angle (the potential break-out feud against HHH that should have been his instead went to Mr. McMahon), but that's three years ago, now.  Is it time to question if Test has Unrealized Potential... or maybe it's Misdiagnosed Potential, instead?

Show gets by on size and not much else, which doesn't sit well with me.  Hall managed to finagle both a WWE contract and then a decent recurring spot on TNA shows in 2002, but basically amounted to nothing in either place.

1st Runner Up:  Booker T/Goldust Odd Couple Pairing
2nd Runner Up:  Matt Hardy, version 1.0

It was simple, but effective:  WWE basically told us point blank that they were going to push Lesnar as their next big star, and it worked perfectly.  The Booker/Goldust pairing resulted in some good tag matches on RAW, but will be most remembered because of the often hilarious backstage bits.  And "version 1.0" of Matt Hardy immediately launched him into viability as a singles performer.


1st Runner Up:  Jerry Lynn's Cradle Piledriver
2nd Runner Up:  Brock Lesnar's F-5

I don't care how many times I see Angle do it, the spot where he runs up to the top rope and hoists some guy half-way across the ring will never cease to amaze me.  The move itself is amazing to behold, but the suddenness with which he can strike makes it all the more spectacular when it hits out of nowhere.

Lynn's Cradle Piledriver is still my favorite variation on the now-banned-by-WWE standard.  It just seems like it would really break your neck every time.  And Lesnar's F-5 makes a late surge because of the end-of-year use of the hold:  Lesnar applied it to Big Show against all odds, and has also introduced outstanding table- and ringpost-assisted version of the move.


1st Runner Up:  Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle (Unforgiven, 
2nd Runner Up:  Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero (SD!, 9/26/02)

To me, the feeling that I'm watching something big, special, and important is just as crucial to assessing "Match of the Year" potential as the actual ringwork.  Note that I don't say "more important" or "the only important thing," because that would mean Hogan/Rock from WrestleMania might actually garner some consideration...

HBK/HHH at SummerSlam only had a fraction of Hogan/Rock's special atmosphere, but it was still a big time match, and both participants actually delivered the goods.  A great brawl with a few killer highspots, the match easily blew away all expectations.

Benoit vs. Angle from the September PPV was one of the most uniquely-worked matches of the year, very technical in style.  Fans still warmed to it, and by the end, were into the match, big time; only the cheapness of the finish kept this one from being genuinely considered as an option for the top spot here.  Edge/Eddie rounds out the list, edging out other worthies because it has the intangible bonus of being the single match that really signaled the start of a workrate renaissance on SD!.

1st Runner Up:  AJ Styles vs. Jerry Lynn
2nd Runner Up:  Edge vs. Kurt Angle

As good as Angle and Benoit were teaming up, they were just as good facing each other.  Almost from the moment Benoit returned to WWE from a neck injury, he and Angle have been at odds.  And despite their teaming for several months, they are entangled again at year's end, this time with the WWE Title in the balance.  For a rivalry to have those kinds of legs, something has got to be going right: in this case, it's the depth of the interactions and storytelling as much as it is the fact that the in-ring confrontations always kick ass.

Styles and Lynn have been the anchors around which the TNA X Division has swirled, and as such have crossed paths a bunch of times.  The quality matches that they've delivered and the general fact that they've captained the X Division (TNA's only real bankable facet) earn them this spot.  As discussed above, Edge/Angle not only provided great matches and Edge's superstar status, but also Angle's current hairstyle.

1st Runner Up:  Buff Bagwell
2nd Runner Up:  Jackie Gayda

My usual feeling is that I don't want to "rub in" these worst of picks with too much additional commentary... but a brief aside here:  it'd be easy to find a few really sucky wrestlers who only worked once or twice all year and vote for them.  But for this award to mean anything, I think you have to seek out the better-but-still-lacking talents who worked somewhat regularly.

That's why Jackie Gayda -- who really did look sloppy when rushed onto TV for a couple of matches -- is eclipsed in my voting here.  Not because I honestly think that she's a superior wrestler to Big Show.  It's just that Show exhibited his skills on a much grander stage, allowing us all to appreciate him all the more.

1st Runner Up:  Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert
2nd Runner Up:  The Dupps

Kudos to TNA for landing two painful-to-watch teams in the top three here.  Scotty and Albert make the list because the pairing saddled Scotty with a less talented partner and was basically character assassination for Albert; he's still trying to dig out of that comic relief/b-show jobber hole now as he gets re-pushed as an ass-kicker in late '02.

1st Runner Up:  Big Show
2nd Runner Up:  Reverend D-Von

It's hard enough to get people to cheer for an iconic character like the Taker, and he made matters worse by often not seemingly like he particularly cared to get booed.  I know the vibe he was going for, but a heel simply has to be more demonstrative.  Show didn't get good as a heel till Heyman was doing his talking... and D-Von's reverend stint was so bad for so many reasons, that I don't even want to explore the issue.

1st Runner Up:  Big Show
2nd Runner Up:  Triple H

Orton's introduction stank of "Blue Chipper Rocky Maivia" from the get-go, and it backfired just the same as Rocky's, to the extent that Orton was pushed into a heel role that seems to be suiting him tons better.  Show as a babyface was tepid at best, and never got the benefit of a fan favorite equivalent of Heyman to do his talking.  HHH was gonna be a babyface by default when he came back from injury, but knowing his strengths, it shouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to figure out a heel turn should have come much earlier than it did.

1st Runner Up:  Albert
2nd Runner Up:  Rikishi

Keep in mind, I cast my RSPW ballot over a month ago, and I have not changed this category at all.  Even before recent pushes, this was my trio of channel-flip-inducing wrestlers.  In the cases of Show and Albert, they are unlikely to produce entertaining promos, and unless they are in the ring with exactly the right kind of opponent (namely, a smaller bump machine who can make them look good), their matches won't be any great shakes, either.  Rikishi makes my list because -- despite being a genuinely good worker for a big man -- his gimmick is so god-awfully tired and unfunny.  And worse:  it rubs off on others around him, as he can't be in a tag match or anything without forcing someone else to join him in dancing around like a out-of-character jack-ass (most recent example:  Tazz).

1st Runner Up:  Ric Flair
2nd Runner Up:  Mike Awesome

Sabu is actually still doing most of the things he ever did... but he's doing them in slow motion, it seems.  When I started getting XPW tapes, one of the big things I was looking forward to was seeing Sabu again; when I'd get done watching, one of the big things weighing on my mind is what kind of condition Sabu's gonna be in 3 or 5 years from now.  Flair has obviously been in decline for about 10 years, or so; but at age 53, it's only now that that decline has actually brought him down below the average level of most of the WWE active roster.  I only saw 2 or 3 Mike Awesome matches this year, but they all left me wondering if maybe Awesome needs Masato Tanaka to have a good match...

1st Runner Up:  Jeff Jarrett
2nd Runner Up:  AJ Styles

For the most part, if you're lucky enough to have a job on the WWE roster, you're probably not too undervalued.  But somehow, Raven -- a rare talent who can talk circles around anyone and have a good match, to boot -- keeps slipping through the cracks to the point that I feel he's the most under-appreciated star on TV today.  Filling up the runner up spots with non-WWE guys, Jeff Jarrett is an easy call at #2; simply put, politics are the only thing keeping him from being the top level heel the Fed desperately needs right now, so instead, he's toiling in a glorified indie promotion.  AJ Styles is also ready for prime time, if you ask me.


1st Runner Up:  Reverend D-Von
2nd Runner Up:  TNA's "Kobain" Gimmick

Wrestling Penises?  'Nuff said.  The Rev. D-Von gimmick took the already bad idea of splitting the Duds and made it 10 times worse.  And I don't THINK my Nirvana fandom is the only reason why I found the brooding "Kobain" gimmick to be so ill-advised...

1st Runner Up:  Rikishi's Stinkface
2nd Runner Up:  Hulk Hogan's Leg Drop o' Doom

I hate moves that force announcers to prevaricate.  I mean, obviously the Bronco Buster and Stinkface don't cause physical pain, so we're left to theorize that they put the victim at a psychological disadvantage?  Whatever.  And the homo-erotic overtones never help, either...  at least the Rock's Big Fancy Stupid Elbow ended with an actual elbow to the solar plexus. 


1st Runner Up:  The Dupps vs. Ed Ferrera (TNA, 8/7/02)
2nd Runner Up:  Undertaker vs. Hulk Hogan (Judgment Day,

You don't do a trapeze act without a net, and you shouldn't put Tough Enough winners on live TV right after the contest.  I honestly split the fault of 2002's worst match, and give an equal share to the bookers/writers who put Jackie in that position.  Dupps/Ferrera was also god-awful, but I think that one was supposed to be kinda so-bad-it's-funny...  Taker/Hogan was actually watchable, but was the worst PPV main event of the year; and I hate it when shows are booked to end on merely "watchable" notes.

1st Runner Up:  Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
2nd Runner Up:  Roddy Piper vs. Vince Russo

Oh, good lord, it boggles the mind.  You have to assume there are intelligent people driving the ship at WWE, but then they alienate the audience and castrate characters with some of the worst storytelling in the past few years.  HHH vs. Kane degenerated into feigned necrophilia and a re-writing of Kane's past to make him a bad-driving, party-going, corpse-raping murderer (rather than the equally implausible, but now accepted freakish, hermit-like burn victim that he'd previously claimed to be).  Awful.  And HHH vs. Jericho was slated to headline WrestleMania, but somebody still thought it was a good idea to put the genuine hostility and quest for the World Title on the back burner in favor of faked pregnancies, injured puppydogs, and other issues central to what SHOULD have been the secondary storyline of HHH's break-up with Steph.

And TNA's late entry hasn't even been a real "feud" except for one week, but it's so mind-blowingly dumb it gets a spot.  Russo and TNA think they've got fans asking the question, "Is it a shoot or not?" when the question they should be asking themselves is "What makes us think anyone will give a shit?".

1st Runner Up:  WWF Forced to Change Name to WWE
2nd Runner Up;  InterContinental Title Retired

It's hard to even consider wrestling deaths and other stuff for the same category, but alas, there is no category for Most Disappointing Non-Fatal News...  Davey Boy Smith was a top-drawing mega-star less than 10 years ago, and died in 2002 in the middle of financial and familial troubles too deep to mention.  That's definitely a bit of a downer, no matter how cynical a jerk you are.

WWE's forced name change was disappointing not just because it seemed like such an unnecessary and ludicrous bit of legislation on the part of the World Wildlife Fund, but also because the new chosen name "WWE: World Wrestling Entertainment" just seems so... weak.  Like the WWF initials, the IC Title has been around longer than I've been a wrestling fan, so it is another institution that I'll miss dearly.

1st Runner Up:  X-Pac
2nd Runner Up:  Brian Lawler

Jerry Lawler was always a mix of really funny and really annoying.  But it usually seemed like he was leaning towards "funny" more often than not.  But since his return to the commentary desk this year, that hasn't been the case.  It's possible, I guess, that Lawler just seems less effective to me since he came back and replaced Paul Heyman (who I honestly thought did a perfect job of being funny, being a heel, and telling stories, all at the same time)... but I really think Lawler's just gone off the deep end:  he's been embarrasingly juvenile (usually when words like "semen" or "HLA" are involved) and even counter-productive (trying to sell a very physical Trish/Victoria feud like its a catfight) this year.

1st Runner Up:  Nidia
2nd Runner Up:  N/A

This award was retired in terms of the RSPW Awards, and without consulting CRZ, I'll assume the reason was because it was increasingly becoming a "Favorite Babe" award.  The last male to win it was Jim Cornette in 1995.  So of course, this was the year that Paul Heyman decided to return to managing full time, and blew away the competition.  He was so good that I've decided to keep the category in here just so I can vote for him.  But since I don't do "courtesy votes" just to round out a top three, I've also got to admit that Nidia is the only other manager/valet who stood out as markedly adding to a wrestler's appeal this year: integral to her man's gimmick and very active at ringside, kind of like Sherri Martel was.  Except with a penchant for eyeball-riveting jean shorts.

1st Runner Up:  Michael Cole
2nd Runner Up:  Mike Tenay

For the first time in a long time, I actually had to think long and hard
about who is the best play-by-play man in WWE.  Jim Ross, long the best (and possibly the only really acceptable) announcer in the company, was saddled with subpar material and an annoying broadcast partner, and I think had a demonstrably "down" year.  On the other hand, Michael Cole had mostly tremendous material to call, developed real chemistry with Tazz, and finally showed he had value beyond being a microphone stand.  

But in the end, I caved in and gave JR the nod.  My reasoning: a Jim Ross who is focused on a quality product is still the signature voice I want calling a big time match.  JR may have had wild ups and downs in 2002, but I suspect that RAW's (lack of) quality made it real easy to lose concentration on what was going on (whether you're watching at home, writing about it, or even up close calling the action).  Cole, on the other hand, though lacking the perceived expertise and big show experience, did not have any notable lapses all year.  But I think if we get another year like this, and the top spot will be Cole's for the taking.  

Mike Tenay rounds out the voting, here, for being the knowledgeable, professional (if uninspiring) Voice of TNA.

1st Runner Up:  Raven
2nd Runner Up:  D'Lo Brown

Hands down, this one goes to Tazz this year.  On his own, Tazz seems to have really expanded his efforts to explain the names and purposes of wrestling holds, which is always appreciated.  And his sense of when and how to be funny seems much more refined and effective than Lawler's, too.  Throw in the fact that he's found a groove working with Michael Cole, and he's definitely one half of the best commentary team in the business right now.  The revolving door color man (or woman) spot on Heat provided the runners-up here.  Both Raven and D'Lo Brown were really good in extended stints teaming with Jonathan Coachman.

1st Runner Up:  Chris Jericho
2nd Runner Up:  Kurt Angle

It stands to reason the guy on the roster who's well-spoken and charismatic enough to star in a major Hollywood blockbuster is the guy who can usually be counted on to do the best job delivering his lines when cutting promos.  Even in limited duty, Rock showed enough to earn this award.  Jericho, be in in face-to-face deals, more rehearsed diatribes, or quick backstage vignettes has always got something to say.  Angle's heel timing is perfect, even if it does continue to leave him susceptible to the hated "What" chant.

1st Runner Up:  Shawn Michaels Goaded into Comeback by HHH
2nd Runner Up:  Bischoff Crashes SD's Same Sex Wedding

In this day and age, it's next to impossible to really surprise the vigilant wrestling fan.  Eric Bischoff showing up on RAW, embracing Vince McMahon, was a complete and total shock to everyone, including some of the wrestlers themselves.  It set up some cool storylines, too, and it helped that Bischoff the Performer has turned out to be quite steady.  More so than Bischoff the Guy in Charge of WCW ever was, anyway.  HBK's return was handled well with some good, slow burn storytelling, and then paid off in the form of a bunch of show-stopping matches.  Bischoff's Scooby-Doo-esque crashing of SmackDown's wedding between Billy and Chuck was also in the "genuinely surprising" category; assuming you don't read spoilers, anyway.

1st Runner Up:  NWA-TNA
2nd Runner Up:  HWA

A no brainer.  WWE is just about the only game in town.  NWA-TNA is the only other wrestling company to make a dime off me this year, so I gotta give them #2.  HWA spent half the year with access to WWE developmental talent, and the whole year as the third product that I had TV access to here in Dayton, OH, so they are my #3.

1st Runner Up:  WWE RAW
2nd Runner Up:  NWA-TNA Weekly PPV

For three months, this was a pick 'em.  Then the brand split hit, and despite the exclusivity of the rosters, there was still a pretty homogenous feel to both RAW and SD.  But after the introduction of general managers, SmackDown! pulled WAY ahead in terms of creating a distinct atmosphere:  more athletic, less outrageous, and able to fully capitalize on the assembled roster's strengths.  RAW, despite stumbling late in the year with necrophilia and what-not, still had enough to recommend it for the two-spot.  Of the TNA PPVs I got to see, two of 'em were really good, and all had at least a match or two worth tuning in for.

1st Runner Up:  WWE Royal Rumble
2nd Runner Up:  WWE Vengeance

Easy call: SummerSlam had my Match of the Year, plus another outstanding contest in the form of Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle, AND a historically significant (and dramatic and well-contested) main event in Brock Lesnar's defeat of the Rock.  Throw in Edge/Eddie, Benoit/RVD, and UnAmericans/Booker&Goldust, and you had pretty much a top-to-bottom super card.  The always fun Rumble match itself, plus very good Rock/Jericho and Vince/Flair matches put the Royal Rumble at #2.  Vengeance had a solid tables match opener, real good CW, IC, and Euro Title matches, and Rock and Angle carrying Taker in a 3-way main event.


1st Runner Up:  WWE Hires Rey Mysterio, Pushes him 
     Beyond just the Cruiserweight Division
2nd Runner Up:  NWA-TNA Creates X Division

Until each brand started to take on a distinctive flavor, the WWE split was uninspired.  But once the pieces were in place and the move was made to create unique identities for each show, SD! under Heyman became the wrestling week's must-see show.  Also kudos to WWE and SD! specifically for handling Rey Mysterio so well; he's been promoted so well that he has yet to "resort" to competing in the CW division exclusively.  And if SD! is WWE's weekly "can't miss," then that's the position filled by the X Division on TNA shows: amidst whatever other crap is served up, you know you'll get at least one killer match.

1st Runner Up:  Test
2nd Runner Up:  Linda McMahon

When the best thing that can be said about your interviews is that the commentators do a hilarious job of making fun of how bad they are, you're setting a new standard for suckiness.  Congratulations, Al Wilson, for cutting promos so bad, they're completely indefensible.  Even by the hired corporate shills who are supposed to sell EVERYTHING.


1st Runner Up:  Chris Jericho Runs Over HHH's Dog
2nd Runner Up:  nWo Rams Ambulance with Truck

The back-to-back weeks when HHH made "revelations" about Kane's past and when Kane then did a rambling confession about what really happened comprised the year's most uncomfortably-bad TV.  It's stuff like that that makes it very hard to sit down and try to explain your wrestling fandom to a non-fan friend.  The bungling of HHH/Jericho wasn't nearly as bad, but it gets bonus Stupid Points because it made a puppydog a key element of a WrestleMania main event feud.  The over-dramatization of the nWo's ramming of the Rock's ambulance ("Is there a gas leak?  Is it gonna explode?") was another of those, "Oh, god, they can't be serious, can they?" moments.


1st Runner Up:  Former WWF selects WWE as new name
2nd Runner Up:  WWE attempts to re-create the nWo

The Fed's handling of their WrestleMania main event feud (HHH vs. Jericho) was bafflingly bad; first they screwed things up by adding ludicrous soap opera nonsense to the storyline, then they still sent the two out there to be the final match at the WM PPV.  The match played to a mostly dead crowd, lending a very anti-climactic feel to the Fed's biggest event of the year. Second worst move:  the Fed's new choice of name.  I know the necessity of change was forced upon them, legally, but they could have come up with something less weak-sounding than "WWE," if you ask me.  And what of the return of the New World Order?  The nWo concept did have value, but after the dreadful way it played out upon its return earlier this year (due to injuries and backstage issues as much as anything, admittedly), I think that value is gone.  The nWo is done after this latest mishandling.

And if you've made it this far, why not stick around while the Guy With An Audience continues to act all self-important with his...


Best Movie:  The Two Towers
This wasn't a year where there was any kind of "under the radar" kick-ass, clever, blow-away movie (like "Memento" was last year).  But there were a ton of mega-popular blockbusters that were actually decent in 2002.  Even when I was going to see a lot of movies just as an excuse to sit somewhere air conditioned over the summer, I didn't see a whole lot of crap.  Hell, hokey dialogue aside, "Spider-man" and "Star Wars Episode II" were both really enjoyable; if I hadn't seen "Men in Black 2," I think I could have safely called this the first year I remember with no ultra-shitty blockbusters, but alas....  So: no real five star, clear-cut best movie(s) of the year... but less in the way of garbage than usual, too.  Just a few movies in the B+/A- range that were my personal favorites.  "The Two Towers" is freshest in my mind, and really was quite outstanding, so I'll go with that.  I liked "Minority Report" a ton, too.  And somebody told me "Equilibrium" was tremendous, but of course, it never got within driving distance of me here in Dayton, so I didn't get to see it.  Anyone suggesting "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is getting short shrift here will be punched in the eyeball.

Best Album:  Foo Fighters, "One by One"
Unlike the movie division -- where there were 2 or 3 movies last year that were better than 2002's best -- this was a killer year for music.  Any one of four records could be my best of the year, and any of the top seven or eight on my list are better than anything that came out in 2001.  I go with the Foos on top: first of all, this was a super "bounce back" record following "There is Nothing Left to Lose" (which was kind of bland), and secondly, I just plain like the ethic that you don't need to do much fancy or re-invent the wheel to put out a rockin' album.  Others in contention:  Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Plastic Fang" (another killer "bounce back" record), Queens of the Stone Age's "Songs for the Deaf" (swear to god, I didn't even know Dave Grohl was playing on that record till about the fourth time I heard it!), The White Stripes' "White Blood Cells," and the Audioslave record.  When I think about all the cool stuff that I'm not even mentioning here (Mudhoney's comeback record, Tom Petty with a "bounce back" record of his own, GbV, Beck, the Flaming Lips, even Andrew WK!), I am positively blown away by how good a year it was for music... 

The MVP of Rock:  Dave Grohl
He writes songs for and fronts his own band.  It turns out he was the studio drummer for another of 2002's best records.  He was a member of Nirvana, which finally got around to putting out a new record this year.  And let's not forget that he was the devil in the Tenacious D video for "Tribute" (which he also played drums on).  If I were a girl, I'd want to have Dave Grohl's babies.  As it stands, I'm a guy, and I feel manly enough admitting my deepest, most secretest fantasy is to have his next side project, instead.

Best Book I Read:  "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson
Awesome book.  Enough techno-babble to give the cybergeeks something to latch on to, but ultimately it's a treasure hunt that includes parallel stories in the present day and during WW2.  And all tied together with a toned-down version of a "Catch-22"-esque tone of carefully crafted absurdity.  I think it was a year or two old, so you should be able to find it in paperback, now.  In fact, I think you must go find it in paperback, and read it, and love it.  Trust me.

Best DVD:  Mr. Show with Bob and David (Seasons 1 & 2)
OK, so technically, there may be more STUFF on the big four-disc Lord of the Rings DVD (which I just got for X-Mas and already have wasted a ton of time with)...  but c'mon people:  Mr. F'n Show!  You get 10 episodes, each with a special commentary by Bob and David and Guests, just in case you've gone all "Monty Python" and memorized the skits and need additional entertainment.  You will get your $20 worth from "Jeepers Creepers Semi-Star" alone!

Most Disappointing News Item (Bootleg Movie Division):  "Run, Ronnie, Run" Isn't Really THAT Funny
Through the magic of Kazaa, I got to see the Mr. Show movie, "Run, Ronnie, Run."  It was OK, definitely a few big laughs.  But a lot of it was recycled from the TV show, which I know backwards and forwards already, so...  maybe that's just the curse of watching too much Mr. Show?  Then again, I think I read that they did two different versions: one to satisfy the studio dickweeds, and one that they actually thought was funny.  Maybe I saw the former...

Best Videogame(s) Ever:  Grand Theft Auto 3 & 4
Not being a videogame guy, I wound up being about six months behind everybody else on the GTA3 thing.  I finally played it this spring.  I think it took about a month and 5 consecutive rentals from Blockbuster, but we finally beat the game.  It took us so long because we'd start doing stupid shit like trying to do crazy jumps in the tank (trick: turn the turret around and shoot backwards for maximum speed!) and finding the perfect sniper's nest where you can engage in maximum carnage without the coppers being able to get to you.  Needless to say, GTA4 has been a lot of fun, too, now that we're easily able to find it to rent.

Most Disappointing News Item (Wrestling Website Division): CRZ Retires for Real This Time
Believe it or not, Z was already doing "Prime Time Wrestling" Recaps when I discovered the internet 10 years ago...  then he did RAW for a while, then he took a break, and then he came back to do RAW for me and Mike when he formed WrestleManiacs.  Four and a half years later, Z's all growed up: bagging himself a good girl and leaving the silly wrestling recapper thing behind him in favor of the more domesticated life.  I don't think he'll come back this time... thanks for everything, CRZ.  Especially for the period in 1999-2000 when I was only PRETENDING to watch WCW religiously, but was sometimes just reading your recaps.  You saved my ass.

Best Promotional Move (Wrestling Website Division):  OO Takes a Flyer on this Jeb Lund Character
So I get a ton of people who send me "sample columns" and stuff, and I usually give it a read and don't think about it again.  But this past summer, for some reason, a submission from Jeb Lund actually caught my eye, made me laugh, made me think.  Bubba Dudley is the next Stone Cold?  So I print it, and through a wacky turn of events, Jeb winds up doing a weekly column.  I could not be happier.  His material is always top-shelf and on time, and he even cares enough to do extra work for OO (like organizing "Crashing the Boards").  If it weren't for him, I might actually have the balls to admit, in mixed company, that I thought I was the best writer on OO!

Best (Non-Wrestling) TV Show:  Curb Your Enthusiasm
Everybody else would re-arrange their schedule to see "The Sopranos," but it seemed like this year, the real highlight of HBO on Sunday night's was CYE.  The "Krazy Eyez Killah" episode was the funniest thing I saw all year.

Most Disappointing News Item (Bar and Tavern Division): The Somewhere Lounge Closes Down
During my formative years, the Somewhere became the very first "hole in the wall" I frequented.  It was suggested by more veteran drinkers in our posse, and soon, upwards of a dozen of us would swarm the place every Saturday night.  It was there that I got a taste for bourbon; it was in self defense, because my "Beam and Coke" would usually come with the Coke applied with an eye dropper, something which I came to appreciate in time.  This fall, I drove past the place one night and thought about going in for a drink, but didn't, because it was karaoke night.  A few weeks later, the place was locked up for good.  I felt like such a heel.  RIP, Somewhere Lounge.

Best Workers (Bar and Tavern Division):  Mike, Guido, Melissa, Dave, Kim, and the New Guy
Who cares if everybody knows my name, as long as these fine bartenders know my drink and have it waiting for me within nanoseconds of my arrival at their respective establishments.  My specialty:  the Maker's Mark on the rocks where I usually get a double, double and a half... but pay for a single.  I'm Telly Savalas, and membership has its privileges.

Most Painful Sports Anguish:  Indiana Hoosiers Make it to NCAA Finals... and Lose
When your team isn't really that good, you're prepared for them to lose sooner rather than later.  What you're not ready for is for them to win five times in a row, upsetting the #1 ranked team in the nation, teasing you with visions of a national title... only to lose ignominiously to Maryland in the finals.  IU, a #5 seed, looked ready for another first or second round exit from the tourney this year... which would have been easier to swallow than that painful Monday night in April was.

Surprisingly Easy to Deal With Sports Anguish:  Yankees Ousted in First Round of Playoffs
Four World Series Titles in the past seven years or whatever is fine with me... no need to be greedy.  Plus, when the Yankees lose, it just makes George mad.  And when George gets mad, he spends.  Welcome to pinstripes, the best ball players from Japan and Cuba!

Best Website (Non-OnlineOnslaught.com, Non-Porn Division):  www.HomestarRunner.com 
My drummer introduced me to this site a couple months ago, and now, I pass the good word on to you.  Go to the place where tropical breezes flow.  Go to the coolest place I know.  The ones are always cold... and so on and so forth.  

Most Aggressive Cultural Imperialism:  Cincinnati Envelops Dayton
For the longest time, we've had Skyline Chili up here, an hour north of Cinci... but this is getting ominous, now.  Cincinnati makes Dayton it's Single-A baseball affiliate.  Then they sent the Graeter's Ice Cream People to open a few stores here.  And now, LaRosa's has migrated northward.  What the hell is going on?  If this is the inevitable course of action, Cincinnati, can't we please at least request a Montgomery Inn?  And the secret to running a dirty, dirty college basketball program that manages to never get caught, too?  If it's not too much trouble...

Estimated Date of Publication of Part One of the OO 2002 Year in Review Special:  February 3...  2004!
Hell, if I keep coming up with lame-ass awards, it might be summer time before I get started on that thing!  So I better quick this and get cracking...  [Seriously, though, the YiR should go up in segments starting the week of January 6.  Honest.] 

Discuss Your Best of 2002 Choices in the OO Forums


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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