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OO 2003 YEAR IN REVIEW: THE OO EDITION
The Rick's 2003 Honor Roll
December 23, 2003

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

OK, so it's once again my turn to tell you what was awesome this year... the only difference is that this year, I'm giving equal time to the crew of OO columnists, recappers, and personalities who join me here week in and week out.  My own damned opinion is now just that:  my own.  It'll count for no more or less than anyone else's when I actually tally up the Consensus OO Best of 2003 in a week or two.

The one spot where I did have a controlling hand in things was in the creation of the awards categories.  I loosely based a set of 25 categories on the already-concluded RSPW Achievement Awards. As is my custom, I axed a bunch of the "Worst of" awards on the grounds that you don't need to recognize and call attention to the sucking as much as you do to the ruling of the world.  OK, so some stuff sucked.  We don't have to rub it in.

I also added in a few ideas of my own that I think reflect the unique tone of OO: that yeah, OK, we're pretty smart, but we're also still fans.  Thus, stuff like the "Holy Shit Moment of the Year" and recognition of the funniest throw-away moments.  End result, by the time I got done fiddling and listening to the other OO-ites' protestations and suggestions, I ended up back to 30 categories.  More than I'd planned on, but still significantly less bloated than it could be...

Well, MINE's pretty damned bloated, actually.  Doing these prefatory notes after actually making all my votes and comments, I realize one thing:  that if nothing else, having all the other OO-ites do similar Honor Rolls must have inspired me to be even MORE insightful and MORE convincing in my comments (or at least MORE verbose) than I was last year.  So settle in, get comfy, and grab a beverage (actually, this might even be a two beer job... if you're not a puss!), cuz it's gonna be a long haul.

But enough explanation.  With the admission that (due to the fact that these awards represent all of 2003 and not just a "voting year" that ended in November like the RSPW awards) I've changed some things from my RSPW awards ballot that you may have already seen, and with the co-mingled hope and fear that maybe, just maybe Monday's RAW with HBK vs. HHH could ruin that "all of 2003" claim by kicking a half-dozen or more kinds of ass, I present to you The Rick's Very Best (and Worst) of the Year....

THE VERY BEST OF 2003

BEST WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Brock Lesnar
The wrestler who not only performed at the highest levels both in the ring and behind the microphone, but did so in important, marquee matches for his/her company.
1st Runner-Up: Chris Jericho
2nd Runner-Up: Shawn Michaels

Comments:  For as tortuous as I found it to pick winners in some other categories, deciding on a winner in this, the most important one of all, was a simple process.  Bottom line: Brock Lesnar was the most valuable contributor to what I felt was the best wrestling show on TV.  

There are guys who you could have taken out of the SD! mix, and the show would still have been outstanding.  Hell, Kurt Angle basically wrestled a half-year, and SmackDown! survived (and if you want to know why Angle, as awesome as he is, did not make my top three, well, there's your answer).  But I have my doubts if SmackDown! would have been as rock solid as it was if you tried to take Lesnar out of the equation.  He was absolutely central to the WWE Title/SD! Main Event picture at every single point along the year, either as the clear-cut #1 contender or as the Champ.  He did it from both the face and heel sides of the roster.  And he did in style: Lesnar was involved in fully half of my 10 favorite matches of the year (and even had some eye-opening efforts against the presumed-lost-cause that was the Big Show), and in the second half of 2003 evolved into a complete performer, cutting promos that were probably the best pure, old school heel interviews of anyone the entire year.  When you combine that much main event marketability and top shelf performance, when you got a guy who is that entertaining and is doing his work in main event after main event, you got yourself the Wrestler of the Year.

The fact that Lesnar was the focal point of SD! is actually what opens the door for RAW to sneak the two top runners-up in...  Lesnar was the anchor, and around him swirled a transient stream of entertaining and effective performers (Cena, Benoit, Angle, Taker, Eddie, even Big Show), with no single one of them able to make the same sort of year-long impact as Lesnar.  But over on RAW, no one performer really stood out as carrying the brand so single-handedly.  So my top two runners-up are two guys who did the best they could for RAW, and for the most part, did it together.

With the top level main event guys (mostly HHH working with Goldberg, Nash, and Steiner) lacking in the performance aspect, that left Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels to quietly establish themselves as the two go-to guys on the roster.  And luckily, they were "married" to each other for essentially the entire year, allowing them to cut promos and work matches that showcased their combined skill, even if it wound up being in segments that were secondary to the World Title picture.  Jericho is the easy top runner up, because his work schedule meant we saw more of him; also, the introduction of "The Highlight Reel" was the perfect way to let Jericho flex his heel muscles, and meant he became a key player in the on-going Austin vs. Bischoff war.  The late year "Love Rhombus" showcased another side of Jericho that also boosts him into the easy #2 spot.  Michaels performance, even if limited to about 3 shows per month, was always outstanding, and he was practically back to 1996 form by the time he stole the show at the Survivor Series.

BEST TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR: Los Guerreros (Eddie/Chavo)
The tag team that not only performed at the highest levels both in the ring and behind the mic, but did so in important, marquee matches for their company.
1st Runner-Up: The World's Greatest Tag Team (Haas/Benjamin)
2nd Runner-Up: America's Most Wanted (Harris/Storm) 

Comments: For as easy as Wrestler of the Year was, Tag Team of the Year is a real brain teaser.  But I go with Los Guerreros.

Despite missing a huge chunk out of the middle of the year due to an injury to Chavo, I don't think any duo had a better "hit rate" in terms of matches that were both entertaining and meaningful.  They remain just about the ONLY tag team in the biz that can entertain just as much on the stick as they can in the ring, something that I cannot overlook.  And plus, the "Lie, Cheat, and Steal" gimmick is perfect, and set up some of the most memorably complex and diabolical finishing sequences of the year.  Eddie and Chavo, I admit, didn't do it all year long; but when they were together, they were doing it demonstrably better than anyone else.

Haas and Benjamin are the very close call at #2.  They broke in with a pure gold gimmick as "Team Angle," but it also put them months behind schedule in terms of developing anything remotely resembling their own personalities.  So even though the eventual "World's Greatest Tag Team" did their thing for just about the entirety of 2003 (save for a brief Benjamin injury hiatus), there were stretches of time when they were forgotten members of the roster, relegated to forgettable work in second-rate feuds (vs. the APA, anyone?).  

I'm putting James Storm and Chris Harris, TNA's "America's Most Wanted" in at #3, and don't think for even a SECOND that this is a token vote to placate the indie lovers or anything.  I mean it: these guys were the third best tag team I saw all year in terms of putting on great matches that meant something.  They are way over with TNA fans, and have a great arsenal of double-team moves that make it clear that they are a Tag Team (and not two singles guys thrown together).  Of that second level of full time teams that are actually TEAMS, AMW are ahead of the Duds or the Bashams.

BEST FEMALE PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Trish Stratus
The woman who, week in and week out, performed at the highest level in the capacity asked of her. 
1st Runner-Up: Molly Holly
2nd Runner-Up: Victoria

Comments: I left this category completely open to the individual voter to decide the criteria.  Everybody could have gone the Herb Kunze Route and picked some obscure Japanese woman wrestler on the grounds that she is an even better ring technician than Chris Benoit.  Or everybody could have gone the opposite way and said, "Well, Torrie Wilson was in Playboy, which makes her obviously the hottest woman in the entire business, and hotness is all that matters."  But I knew from the start where I was gonna end up: limiting myself to the RAW women.  Let's face it, WWE's essentially the only company that "matters" to most fans.  And I simply don't want to get into ricockulous arguments with people who think Stacy's too skinny or that Dawn's a "butterface" or whatever.  Trying to dictate personal taste is pointless.  Anyway, every single girl on the WWE roster is, in her own way, a very accomplished wang plumpener... so let's just try to find some other criteria to go with here, OK?

And like I said, that invariably leads us to RAW, where we've got a women's title belt and where the women are being given material that amounts to significantly more than sideshow distraction-caliber tripe.  They're like fully formed characters with real pro wrestling storylines and angles and stuff.  And who was central to the entire operation in 2003?  Trish Stratus.  Started off the year with a great feud against Victoria over the women's belt (which included some really excellent matches, too, some of the most brutal and stiff you'd ever want to see, regardless of Lawler's attempts to sell them as PuppyFests).  Finished off the year with a similarly good feud with Molly Holly and involvement in the infuriatingly-addictive "Love Rhombus" (which showcased some more good matches but was more a storyline-driven part of the year).  And all along the way, did it as an exceptionally effective babyface, managing to seen normal and likeable and sympathetic even when stuff around her went nutty (like unwanted amorous advances from that creepy Jeff Hardy!).  With the top guys in the business tending towards the more realistic and "being themselves," it's refreshing to see that now permeating the women's ranks.  You take Trish's vibe of "regular girl who just happens to be a competent wrestler" instead of the WWE standard of "ridiculous wrestling stereotype (the crazed lunatic, the prude, the punk rocker, etc.) who happens to be a girl," then throw in a couple of quality storylines and an even bigger handful of solid in-ring performances, and I don't think there's any mystery here as to why Trish gets my vote. 

No one else was quite as important all year long, but of the partial qualifiers, Molly Holly and her outstanding second half make the #2 spot an easy pick.  Quarterbacking the heel women for about four months, Molly did the grunt work in the division.  We always knew she could have the quality matches, but this year, she finally made me forget bubbly, blonde, huggable Cousin Molly and buy her as a heel with a real chip on her shoulder and a bona fide head for evil.  I can even pinpoint the night when that switch was flipped: it was her attack on Lita when Molly went all Ted DiBiase and shoved pages of Lita's own autobiography down her throat.  If that ain't a classic heel move, I don't know what is.  And Victoria could usually be counted on to deliver nicely in the ring (again, with Trish, she probably had the women's division's best series of matches of 2003), and as a character, was also so good week in and week out... but sadly, after the first 3 months of the year, she was so good week in and week out on Heat. She might as well have not existed on most Monday nights, a situation which, if remedied, might result in Victoria moving up this list in future years.

Man alive, did I really use the phrase "accomplished wang plumpener" in my insightful and pertinent analysis of the women's division?  Well, I meant it in the nicest possible way....  honest.

BEST FEUD OF THE YEAR: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle
The rivalry that produced the best storylines, matches, angles, and/or promos of the year.
1st Runner-Up: Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho
2nd Runner-Up: Raven vs. Jeff Jarrett

Comments: In the age of monthly PPVs, the art of the long-spanning feud had been mostly lost.  Until this year, when the emergence of the right talents in the right spots and the beginning of the brand-specific PPV era meant that each of RAW and SD! had kick-ass feuds that lasted the entirety of 2003.
 
I give the edge to SD!'s Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle feud as the best of the year.  They faced off one-on-one only three times in TV matches.  All three of those contests are easy qualifiers in my Top 10 Matches of the Year (and a fourth, a three-way with Big Show, is a contender for that list).  Talk about a remarkable hit rate.  When those two lock horns, something just snaps into place, and you just know it's gonna rule.  And it ruled in different ways this year.  Starting right out of the chute in January, it was heel Angle and babyface Lesnar.  Then, they resumed their feud as fellow babyfaces who respected each other.  Then they ended the year, tangling most recently at November's Survivor Series, with Lesnar the heel and Angle the face.  It allowed each guy to fully showcase his skill set, not just in promos of different tones, but also in terms of wrestling different style matches against each other as the feud matured and progressed.  It takes the right two guys to make a feud last for essentially 12 months and stay pretty fresh the entire way.  Angle and Lesnar, with their evolving roles, certainly qualify.  I also cannot discount the intangible factor that Angle and Lesnar's amateur histories (Olympic and NCAA champs, respectively) bring to the feud.  Somehow, it feels more "real" when these two are opponents.  And that is a big plus.

RAW's year-spanner is Jericho vs. Michaels, and an easy call for #2.  Even when they got distracted by other issues, they somehow got pulled back together to renew hostilities.  Along the way, they were integral to two of RAW's top three matches of the year (at WM19, and on opposite teams at Survivor Series).  While HBK/Y2J isn't "real" in the same way Angle/Lesnar is, there is a undertone of something more important, something genuine, here, too... it stems from the early 2003 promos where Jericho admitted that Michaels was basically his idol, that Michaels created the road map to success for smaller guys that Jericho eventually followed.  A great feud needs little touches like that to have the legs that Jericho/Michaels did.

Rounding out the top trio is TNA's Raven vs. Jeff Jarrett feud.  It, too, has lingered for a lion's share of 2003, and it had to do so in an environment where there was a PPV every WEEK.  The feud ignited almost immediately upon Raven's arrival early in the year and was the impetus for a huge amount of momentum built up over the Spring by TNA.  That snowballed even more over the summer months, even after the first Raven/Jarrett showdown had passed.  Even after TNA cooled down a bit in the Fall, Raven vs. Jarrett looks poised to leap back to the top of the depth chart as we close out the year (as part of an angle where Raven has now lost any chance at ever getting another NWA Title shot at Jarrett).  Just as much for its import to the company as for how entertaining it was in execution, Raven/Jarrett makes my list.

BEST MATCH OF THE YEAR: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (SD!, IronMan Match)
The match that best combined great ringwork and psychology/storytelling to get fans off their seats and cheering.
1st Runner-Up:  Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (Royal Rumble)
2nd Runner-Up: Rey Mysterio/Billy Kidman vs. Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin (Vengeance PPV, WWE Tag Title Match)

Comments: Here, Constant Reader, is another extremely gut-wrenching category.  I have, in fact, flip-flopped my top two matches no fewer than THREE times over the past few days as I reviewed the tapes.  But this is the order I'm gonna settle on.  It's in print, now, and I won't take it back.

Top spot is the IronMan match between Lesnar and Angle.  For a couple of reasons.  Or at least, for a couple of reasons that combine into one big reason:  IronMan 3 is a match that wasn't just an incredible athletic exhibition, but taken as a whole it also told a very compelling story, and told it so well that I think it's completely fair to say that IronMan 3 and Kurt Angle MADE Brock Lesnar that night.  The heel that Lesnar is today as we close out the year, the champ that he is today... it's all because of that one night.  If Chris Benoit and WWE had built upon the incredible success of that Royal Rumble match, my story might be different.  But they didn't.  So IronMan gets the award in recognition of its unparalleled drama, athleticism, and significance.

There was the story that spanned the whole match: that Lesnar knew he could not out-wrestle Angle, so he intentionally dropped falls by getting DQ'ed, because the chairshots and cheap tactics meant he could follow up by getting additional falls in his favor.  Yeah, so OK, there was some stalling and general slowness for the opening 20 minutes or so, but they were not BORING minutes.  They set the stage for what was to come, which was an amazing closing 40 minutes ending with Angle cinching Lesnar into an ankle lock that could have sent the match into overtime... but Lesnar refused to tap out in the final seconds.  So even though he won three of his five falls in very dubious fashion, even though Angle scrapped and clawed and out-wrestled Lesnar to get his four, Lesnar just eeked out the win and took the strap he still holds today.  Amazing drama: amazing to the point that the incredible 60 minute physical/workrate effort (commendable on its own) is secondary.  Special mention goes to Tazz and Michael Cole, who contributed their best single hour of work ever to this match, enhancing the drama and in general giving an all-too-rare "legitimate sporting event" feel to the match.  I can't NOT vote for IronMan 3 for Match of the Year.

But Angle/Benoit certainly gave it a run in my mind.  Months ago, I'd resigned myself to the fact that I'd screwed up in my initial "very good, but not great" review of the match, perhaps letting all the other suckiness of the Rumble PPV (where Steiner vs. HHH and Dawn Marie vs. Torrie were two of the three Worst Matches of the Year) affect my mood.  But damn if Angle/Benoit doesn't have Rewatchability.  In spades.  To the point that I actually did name it as "Match of the Year" on my RSPW ballot before my latest round of Rewatching and Reflecting.  It ages very well (and unlike rewatching Lesnar/Angle today, you DO get a sense of aging from Benoit/Angle because of Angle now being a face and how far Benoit has fallen down the card since that lofty performance), and it's another example of something I could point to when asked to explain just what I like about pro wrestling.  Upon rewatching, I will also firmly state that the last 10 minutes of Angle/Benoit was the finest 10 sustained minutes of in-ring action of the year.  Red hot with reversal after reversal, culminating in Angle having to bust out the Super Duper Mega Ankle Lock to get Benoit to tap out.  Just awesome stuff.

And my #3 choice?  No, it's not really any anti-RAW plot on my part...  I liked Michaels/Jericho as much as the next guy (although it wasn't even RAW's best match of the year... Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff was, as it was just as well worked as Michaels/Jericho but also had added drama and a finish that was much "bigger" and more significant) and all that.  It's just that I feel this odd compulsion to remind everybody about Haas/Benjamin vs. Rey/Kidman;  it was the show stealer of the best PPV of the entire year, and NObody remembers or talks about it.  I'm not really sure if that means it should be #3 on this list, but dammit:  I'm voting for it just to be difficult and MAKE you remember it!

MOST FAVORITE PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Kurt Angle
A purely subjective choice; the performer who, regardless of objective talent, entertained this voter the most.
1st Runner-Up: Tajiri
2nd Runner-Up: Chris Jericho

Comments: For everything he did in 2003 (best match, second best match, best feud), I still couldn't bring myself to put Kurt Angle on my "Best Wrestler of the Year" list simply because he did all those things while only working a little more than half-a-year....  so here, where nothing matter except what I likes, Kurt Angle gets his due.  When Kurt's on my TV screen, I know nothing will suck.  He can be wrestling a technical masterpiece.  He can play the bad-ass ankle-breaker.  He can do comedy with aplomb.  It doesn't matter.  Whatever's asked of him, Angle is always a hit and never a miss with me.

Tajiri's the same way, although I'll understand if you feel like a guy who never cuts a promo (in English) is somehow limited.  I'd just counter that he doesn't HAVE to say a word to get his point across.  And evil grin, a condescending bow, even a non-stop burst of Japanese that somehow conveys a bit of levity/humor... Tajiri gets his point across in what strikes me as a very effective and EFFICIENT way.  And don't even get me started on his matches.  Awesome.

Jericho is essentially Angle's RAW counterpart.  Exceptionally versatile, maybe the smallest smidge more skilled on a mic but slightly less so in the ring, but essentially able to do anything asked of him without much risk of turning in a stinker of a segment. 


THE OTHER BEST OF 2003

BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER: Chris Benoit
The grappler who displayed the widest variety of wrestling holds and maneuvers and who executed them realistically and crisply.
1st Runner-Up: Kurt Angle
2nd Runner-Up: Charlie Haas

Comments: And finally... we get to the awards where I don't feel compelled to write a book's worth of comments for every single category.

I don't believe Benoit can be challenged for this award as long as he continues to wrestle week in and week out.  Every single thing he does just screams "Hey, forget what your mother told you, WRESTLING IS REAL."  The moveset he's got, the mannerisms in the ring, everything is sharp and tight and does not look cheap or phony, ever.  That's a ring technician for you.  Angle comes closest to Benoit's expertise, but again, is docked for half-year status.  And keep an eye on Charlie Haas; I could have gone the easy route and just included Eddie or Rey or somebody else who puts a chain wrestling sequence in almost every one of his matches, but I really think Haas is the guy you're gonna see develop that "crispness" that, to me, defines a good technical wrestler.  His background and moveset certainly make this seem plausible, but I also think I saw (especially during one or two singles matches during Benjamin's injury) forward progress in his execution and sequencing of those moves.

BEST HIGH FLYER: Rey Mysterio
The wrestler who displayed the most jaw-dropping array of cleanly-executed and creative high risk maneuvers.
1st Runner-Up: Rob Van Dam
2nd Runner-Up: Chris Sabin

Comments: Rey is a complete and total no brainer choice, here.  He doesn't just do some of the wildest moves in the business, but he does them without hardly ever fucking up... he makes defying gravity look effortless.  JR can call RVD's offense "unique" and "unorthodox" and whatever else he wants... but it boils down to RVD looking like almost nobody else in the company, and it certainly adds a lot of excitement to his matches.  I caught over a dozen TNA shows this year, and the X Division is the Home of the Spotfest, no doubt.  Which can certainly be VERY entertaining.  The guy who stood out and impressed me the most in that environment was Chris Sabin, who had three really excellent matches that I saw (plus, my favorite catchphrase-in-waiting is his: "Hail Sabin!").

BEST BRAWLER/POWER WRESTLER: Brock Lesnar
The wrestler who most effectively took a basic punch/kick/slam moveset and still crafted exciting, high-impact matches.
1st Runner-Up: Undertaker
2nd Runner-Up: Raven

Comments: When necessary, Brock dropped the mad science with Angle and Benoit as opponents... but against opponents like Big Show and John Cena, and even as the clearly less-skilled technician against Benoit and Angle, his true strength turned out to be his brawling and power moveset.  Coaxing extremely entertaining and satisfying PPV main events (like the stretcher match) out of Show, and performing feats of strength like F-5'ing 500 lbs. giants make Lesnar the hands-down winner here.  Smarks will mock me, but the Undertaker simply does not suck as badly as they'd like to believe; is he old?  Yep, but no more so than Bret Hart was when he was your hero.  Is he prone to injury?  Well, yeah, but how does that affect what he does when he's on TV and in the ring?  Taker still brings it hard and brings it strong in the "WWE Main Event Style."  Last spot goes to Raven, who stands alone in the ability to take what would otherwise degenerate into a "garbage match" and somehow tell a story, sustain the intensity, and have a killer, memorable brawl.

BEST INTERVIEWS: John Cena
The performer who could be relied upon to most effectively advance storylines and enthrall the audience with his/her promos.
1st Runner-Up: Chris Jericho
2nd Runner-Up: The Rock

Comments: I didn't want to like John Cena at first.  I wanted to undercut his promos by giving credit to a staff of writers and ignore his ability to deliver the prepackaged lines.  But when he kept coming with them for a whole year, and when they actually got better and more clever with time, and when it became obvious there was no "staff of writers" (only Cena's own notes and imaginative rhymes), well...  I was left with no choice but to break down and admit that Cena is WWE's deadliest mic man at the present time.  Jericho's really solid, too, and only shined even brighter when given the responsibility of "The Highlight Reel" (where he not only had to tell his own stories, but often times had to introduce others and facilitate their angles).  Kudos for those two aside, the fact is, if the Rock ever again puts in even a six month year, they'll both be knocked down a peg.  Rock is good enough to rule the big screen, and his supremacy over every one of  the WWE's TV screen roster is painfully obvious.  Only the brevity of Rock's tenure keeps him down at #3.

BEST HEEL: Chris Jericho
The wrestler who, by virtue of promos or ringwork, most easily turned entire crowds vociferously against him/her.
1st Runner-Up: Brock Lesnar
2nd Runner-Up: The Rock

Comments: It takes a remarkable performer to be so consistently good and entertaining, and to so consistently tease us with face-ish displays and to STILL stay as solid a heel as Chris Jericho is.  As a microcosm, I offer WM19, where Jericho held up his end in a very good match against Michaels, actually had the crowd won over when he embraced Michaels after the match, and just as quickly turned them back by kicking HBK in the balls.  That's Jericho's genius: entertain them, let them try to cheer you, and then pull the rug out from under 'em.  Brock Lesnar did nothing nearly as crafty or complex, and in fact, spent the first half of the year as a babyface...  but his final six months of the purest, simplest old school monster heelishness was inspired and a major improvement over his mute "Next Big Thing" gimmick from his prior heel run.  And what can I say about The Rock?  Forget it was only three months, and just remember that it took MAJOR balls for him to come back and work as a heel (what with box office receipts riding on his popularity) and to really pour himself into it.  Rock was so good at being bad, and in his role as a semi-disposable heel, he actually made everybody else around him better and a bigger star in the process.

BEST BABYFACE: Shawn Michaels
The wrestler who, by virtue of promos or ringwork, most easily convinced entire crowds to get vocally behind him/her.
1st Runner-Up: Eddie Guerrero
2nd Runner-Up: Steve Austin

Comments: This one is hard.  You had many guys in this category (Angle, Lesnar, Goldberg, Booker) working only partial years (or at least, only partially as a face).  I think that's why, in the end, I go with Shawn Michaels in the top spot.  He was, in many ways, RAW's most bankable (perhaps only bankable) fan favorite over the course of the entire year.  Certainly, all of HHH's first half main event opposition would have to be chalked up as losses, and I contend that Goldberg is still a "project"...  over on SD!, I was incredibly impressed with Eddie Guerrero, who started connecting with the audience in such a way that when WWE tried to turn Eddie heel, the fans said, "No way," and WWE had to turn him back.  Steve Austin belongs on this list, too, and it's only a question of where.  If he'd wrestled more than 3 or 4 times, then you can forget HBK at #1... Austin gets the most reaction by doing the least.  It's just that he did it as a GM and not as a wrestler for most of the year.  Good enough for #3 in my book.

BEST CHARACTER/GIMMICK: John Cena, Professor of Thuganomics
The unique on-screen persona that most aided a performer's ability to connect with the audience through storylines or ringwork.
1st Runner-Up: Los Guerreros Lie, Cheat, and Steal
2nd Runner-Up: The Rock: Hollywood Sell-out

Comments: I hinted at it above, and allow me to again underscore just how badly I thought John Cena the White Rapper would tank.  First, the post-Halloween joke where Cena was an 80s-ish "Vanilla Ice" wannabe made an easy target.  Even after Cena got a bit more serious, it was all too simple to make "Eminem" comparisons and peg Cena as a guy who would begin boring America do death as soon as everybody realized that he has nothing intelligent or interesting to say (even if he could say it with metered rhymes).  And damn him, Cena comes out at the end of 2003 still playing the weekly freestyle card, and even expanding his enterprise to prove that it plays with him as a fan favorite.  I lose, Cena wins.  Los Guerreros' gimmick didn't just give them the taint of lovable heelishness that helped propel them to new heights, but it had the direct affect of making their MATCHES better, too (because they could orchestrate really amusing cheating schemes to finish them off).  The Rock coming back as a Hollywood Sell-out was "real" in its way, and might have been foisted upon Rocky by fans who wanted it to be even more real...  but once he decided to take the risk of playing the bad guy, Rock went 110% with the gimmick (ironically, proving wrong the very fans who forced his heel turn by booing him; would a slave to Hollywood ashamed of his wrestling roots have put that much into being a great heel?) with top shelf results.

MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER: Big Show
The wrestler who showed the most marked improvement in all facets of his/her performance over the last 12 months.
1st Runner-Up: John Cena
2nd Runner-Up: Brock Lesnar

Comments: Since there is no category for "Most Re-Motivated," I think this is the most appropriate place to eat my crow and pay my dues to the Big Show.  A worthless sack of crap, if you believed my 2002 awards ballot, Big Show had a tremendous year in 2003.  The right booking? The right opponent (almost exclusively Brock Lesnar)? Or learning how to work a style that is befitting a "giant," but also not boring?  Probably a combination of factors, but the end result is Big Show went from channel-flip-inducing to a valuable contributor in the last year.  John Cena is #2 on the list; not only did he find a personality that worked for him, but his ringwork reflected an increased attention to detail and doing the little things that draw an audience into a match.  Last year, Cena probably knew how to do all the moves he knows today, it's just that now, he's much better at making them mean something to the audience.  And rounding out the list, Brock Lesnar makes the list on the strength of his year-end promo work, which finally convinced me that Lesnar is just "The Big Thing," with no "next" necessary.  With the addition of a marketable heel persona, Lesnar's now packing the full main event package.

MOST UNDERRATED WRESTLER: Molly Holly
The wrestler who most deserves additional air-time, national exposure, and/or respect from fans.
1st Runner-Up: Jamie Noble
2nd Runner-Up: Ultimo Dragon

Comments: How is the woman who basically ruled the division for the entire second half of the year manage to be underrated?  Because, even with the Women's Title around Molly's waist, the division was never, at any point along the way, about her, and it never will be.  It's already the curse of the tremendous heel to be forgotten because your main job is to put over the heroic babyface, but it's made doubly bad for Molly because fans have been conditioned to respond a certain way to the women's division (by Jerry Lawler, among others).  She'll do the grunt work, make herself despicable enough that it means something when Lita or Trish beats her for her title, and drop that title in a good match to boot...  but she'll rarely, if ever, be recognized as a big reason why these things worked.  Jamie Noble is #2 on my list because he's a rarity in the Cruiserweight Division: a guy who is entertaining as much for his gimmick and personality as for his ringwork.  The added benefit of charisma and personality actually work against him sometimes, as they land him in stupid shit like an angle with Orgy Enthusiast Billy Gunn, overshadowing just how good he can be, and preventing him from putting his dual-pronged appeal to better use elsewhere.  And no one on the WWE roster is being more criminally under-utilized than Ultimo Dragon; even if he's only half his former self, he's still amazingly talented and is an easy choice for #3 on this list.

BEST SECOND: Ric Flair
The non-wrestler (manager/valet/etc) who most effectively added something extra to the storylines and matches of the wrestler(s) whom he/she accompanied to the ring. 
1st Runner-Up: Nidia
2nd Runner-Up: Teddy Long

Comments: Ric Flair has found his niche.  As the Elder Statesman of Evolution, he not only shined all year long (his in ring responsibilities reduced, Flair became a spectacular mouthpiece for the group and a key outside-the-ring player in all their matches), but did so while setting himself up for one last in-ring tear (if there isn't a Flair vs. Orton feud in 2004, I'll amputate an appendage).  I also liked Nidia as ringside accompaniment this year: she is integral to Noble's character for one thing, and #2, she was again a pretty effective ringside distraction in the Sensational Sherri mode.  Teddy Long, god bless him, has been a genius on the mic in 2004, but was given the unenviable task of trying to make us care about Rodney Mack and Mark Henry.  Teddy might actually be TOO good, as he reminds us with startling clarity just how little we care about the guys he's managing once he shuts his mouth.

BEST TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Tazz
The play-by-play announcer, color commentator, interviewer, or other non-wrestler/non-second who contributed the most to an entertaining TV product. 
1st Runner-Up: Steve Austin
2nd Runner-Up: Eric Bischoff

Comments: You know above where I talked about how I thought that Brock Lesnar was irreplaceable in terms of SD! remaining the kick-ass show that it was in 2003?  Well, in total seriousness, I might have to say that second least replaceable guy on the show is Tazz.  Not in terms of the entire show and credibility of the WWE Title falling apart if he was gone, but in terms of there being NObody I can think of who could do his individual job and cover for him if he were gone.  He can make good stuff great, make bad stuff watchable, and make the great matches historic.  Yeah, there's Cole there helping out, but I think Tazz could break in a new play-by-play man before Cole found another color guy he clicked with as well as he does with Tazz.  After Tazz, it's an easy call as to the other two spots:  with their war limited (mostly) to words, Steve Austin and Eric Bischoff ate up substantial amounts of time as RAW's Battlin' GMs.  Usually with entertaining results.  Usually. 

"HOLY SHIT" MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Roddy Piper Appears at WM19, Attacks Hulk Hogan
The angle, high spot, stunt, or storyline swerve that was the most surprising and effective shocker of the last 12 months.
1st Runner-Up: Brock Lesnar/Big Show Superplex Breaks the ring on SD!
2nd Runner-Up: RVD Jumps Ladders, Frog Splashes Christian, Wins IC Title

Comments: There was not one single hint that Roddy Piper might show up at WrestleMania 19, much less an indication that he was coming back to make an impact in storylines and stick around afterwards.  A ringside appearance, even one of Piper's "hi and bye" guest ref spots (like at WM10 and WM11), something like that would have been a nice big surprise.  But showing up unannounced to attack Hogan and start a run as a heel: that wasn't just "Holy Shit."  It was a step bigger.  It was a "Ho.  Lee.  Shit."  Lesnar and Big Show collapsing the ring on SD! was a killer visual and an highly imaginative gimmick/stunt; it was an absolute ejector seat of a moment, even if you'd read the spoilers.  Hell, if they'd done that spot live (or if I hadn't read the spoilers), it might even have topped Piper at WM19 on my list.  The closing 60 seconds of RVD and Christian's Ladder Match was the most amazing, Holy-Shit-Worthy highspot in any major match I saw this year: RVD jumping between ladders was awesome.  Him climbing to the very top of that ladder and hitting the Atomic Five Star Frog Splash before climbing up a second ladder to grab the IC belt was even better.  Wow.

Since there's no better place to mention it, let me just say that there's also a semi-related category of moments...  the moments that tried to be special and amazing, but which somehow fell flat.  Call them the top three Shoulda Been Holy Shit Moments:  (1) Kane Unmasking (it finally happened!  Yay!  But WWE had no idea what to do with it!  Boo!)...  (2)  Goldberg on RAW (if only they'd kept it quiet and not done the Goldberg promo on the WM19 PPV...  his appearance on the post-WM RAW and spearing of the Rock could have been a shocking moment, instead the entire audience was waiting for it)...  and (3) the Jericho/Trish kiss and reveal (the otherwise genuine and surprisingly-appealing romance hit its only false and anticlimactic notes in what should have been the angle's top two moments yet, their first kiss and the revelation that Trish was just a pawn in a Jericho/Christian bet).

FUNNIEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Molly Holly, Goldust, and Lance Storm Backstage at RAW
The skit, promo, or other segment that, even if it wasn't really integral to storylines, was the most worthy of distinction simply for being hi-fricking-larious.
1st Runner-Up: Rock Concert II
2nd Runner-Up: Vince McMahon/Mr. America Lie Detector Test on SD!

Comments: You remember the exchange.  Goldust congratulates Molly on her newly-won go-go-go-go-power-rangers-go-gold.  Then he introduces his NOT AT ALL BORING pal, who's just looking for a good woman, Lance Storm (in full Goldust make-up).  Then Lance, reading off of note cards to boot, compliments Molly for her huge ass-ass-[Lance flips to new card]-ass-ass-[Molly leaves in disgust]-ass-ass-ascension to the top of the women's division.  Ah, poor, lonely Lance: the truth about his massive unit would not make him a hit with the ladies for MONTHS, so he was left to be consoled by Goldust's promises of hot dogs, kielbasas, sausages, and midgets waiting for him in the car.  Trust me, that may not read so hot but it was way funny when Molly, Lance, and Goldust did it.  Rock Concert II was funny on multiple levels: Rock was at his clever guitar-strumming best, an appearance by Gillberg was an hilarious nod to hardcores/smarks, and Goldberg stormed in and unintentionally added to the comedy by stalling his car in his attempt to chase the Rock.  The Lie Detector Test on SD! gets my #3, if only because it was clearly inspired by one of my favorite Mr. Show skits.

BEST WRESTLING SHOW: SmackDown!
The regular television program that consistently supplied the most entertaining mix of in-ring action and great storytelling.
1st Runner-Up: RAW
2nd Runner-Up: NWA-TNA Weekly PPV

Comments: SD! has an uphill battle every week: most fans read the spoilers and know what happens before it airs.  It SHOULD take away from the atmosphere of the show...  but you know what?  Generally speaking, it doesn't.  SD!'s strength is not necessarily in its shocking swerves, but rather in its steady action, and that's really something that has to be seen (and not read about) to be appreciated.  Yeah, SD! did try a few Sports Entertainment Segments this year (Dawn/Torrie, Show/Eddie, Vince/Steph), and thus did have its Moments of Suck.  But it had fewer of them than RAW.  And even if you argue that its highs were not as high as RAW's because they were canned, the simple fact is that SD! still had more of 'em.  I say SD! is first.  RAW is the only other must-see show for a wrestling fan in a given week, the easy #2.  And TNA, well, it's in a unique spot: if they put that show on for free every week, I'd be there.  As it stands, it's not quite consistent enough to structure your Wednesday nights (and your $10 a week) around.  That said, I checked it out much more regularly this year than in 2002, so that's a step in the right direction.

BEST MAJOR EVENT: Vengeance
The one-night event, not shown on a regular/weekly free TV show, that provided the most entertaining (and, on some level, historically significant) mix of in-ring action and storytelling.
1st Runner-Up: WrestleMania XIX
2nd Runner-Up: Backlash

Comments: This is the opinion that gets me the most quizzical looks as I get into drunken rant mode here at Year's End.  How can a throw-away SD!-only PPV be better than WrestleMania?  Simple:  it had a grand total of ZERO holes.  Every segment either lived up to expectations or shattered them.  What looked like a good PPV on paper, thus, turned into an excellent show, and my favorite of the year.  At Vengeance, even the comedy (Bar room brawl) was good, even the stupid catfight (Steph/Sable) was competent and dramatic... and it goes without saying that Angle/Lesnar/Show, Eddie/Benoit, Cena/Taker, and the aforementioned Haas/Benjamin/Rey/Kidman match more than delivered the goods, too.  It's a show that might not have been "significant" in the WrestleMania mold, but it's of excellent quality and oozes Rewatchability.  

WM19 sure did have its moments, too (Michaels/Jericho, Lesnar/Angle, and a surprisingly engrossing Sports Entertainment Segment with Hogan and Vince), but it also had let-downs and holes (like Booker/HHH underwhelming us all, Taker's most pointless WM outing in years, all the unnecessary Limp Bizkit filler you could handle, and Rock/Austin maybe falling a bit flat based on our past expectations, ones that maybe weren't fair due to Austin's health concerns at the time, but which we had anyway).  WM19 was "big" and it was really good in spots, but at the end of the day, it'll probably settle in with the middle third of WMs, and comes up #2 for me this year. The next best show, with the fewest holes: April's Backlash, which included a sweet Team Angle/Guerreros match, a "Vision of Things to Come" match with Cena vs. Lesnar, a "Holy Shit Moment" contender in Rey/Show, a solid HHH/Flair/Jericho vs. HBK/Nash/Booker six man, and the WWE debut of Goldberg (in a fairly entertaining match against the Rock).

BREAK-OUT PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: John Cena
The performer who won over fans and front office personnel to the point that he/she was most-clearly elevated to a new level of importance over the last 12 months.
1st Runner-Up: Eddie Guerrero
2nd Runner-Up: Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin

Comments: Just reflect on everything I've said in this document about Cena already, and you know what he overcame to improve to the point where he was a credible top-of-the-card guy.  This is the category where you throw in the undeniable connection he built up with the audience, one that essentially forced the issue of his face turn late in the year.  Cena did the work, then the fans responded: there's your break-out performer.  We always knew Eddie was really good; what we never expected was that his skill and charisma would be enough to get entire arenas full of fans believing what we smarts knew.  But that's what Eddie did this year, and now he's looking at a 2004 spending challenging for and winning even more gold.  Haas and Benjamin went from personality-less drones as the lackeys of "Team Angle," and ended the year firmly established as outstanding tag wrestlers with a reasonable claim on the title of The World's Greatest Tag Team. 

BREAK-OUT PERFORMER OF NEXT YEAR: Victoria
The performer who has developed all the necessary skills and seems most likely to have them recognized and be elevated to a new level of importance in the next 12 months.
1st Runner-Up: Charlie Haas
2nd Runner-Up: the Coach

Comments: At the end of 2004, I think there's a very good chance that Victoria will be right up there in terms of popularity with Lita and Trish (and maybe even that Lita or Trish will be forced to turn heel to offset Victoria's success as a fan favorite).  It's just one of those deals where you can sense the grassroots effort that is forcing WWE's hand: it really feels like fans are begging for the face turn, and there have been copious hints that's where the Fed is going.  And once they pull the trigger, I think Victoria's got what it takes to run with the ball; you take what she's shown us in the ring against Trish and what she's shown us in promos with Stevie and put them into Monday night issues that matter, and I think the results will be very good.  Charlie Haas already "broke out" in 2003, according to me.  But he did it in a tag setting.  In 2004, I say he'll break through again, and fans will begin to see him as the member of the team with the higher ceiling as a singles (you know: the HBK, the Edge, the Matt Hardy of the duo).  We know he's got the goods in the ring, and I think we've seen sparks of the personality that'll take him to another level showing up lately.  Let me sum it up this way: everything everybody else sees in Randy Orton is what I see in Charlie Haas; if only one of those disgustingly handsome bastards gets to make it big, I would honestly put my money on Haas.  

It'd be really easy for me to say "Matt Hardy" for #3, but to be honest, he's had a string of about 3 or 4 "mini-break-outs," and I'm so frustrated with WWE for never giving him the chance for the big one that I'm gonna leave him off my list here.  Go ahead, WWE, I dare you to make 2004 Matt Hardy's year just to spite me.  And in seriousness, there's nothing wrong with slotting Jonathan Coachman in the three-hole here: his newfound personality rendered him an instant highlight in terms of brief backstage vignettes.  It's a personality that does him no real favors when we have to endure him for hours at a time on Heat or RAW, but it's given me this general sense that Coach might be getting ready to put it all together in his head and find the way to reconcile his now-apparent charisma with the job that a play-by-play man has to do.  And if he does, look for Coach and Al to be the Tazz and Cole of 2006.

BEST "REAL WORLD" NEWS OF THE YEAR: Kurt Angle Undergoes Successful Alternative Surgical Procedure, Back in Action in 3 Months
The contract signing, promotional move, or other backstage/non-storyline development that most benefited a company or the wrestling business as a whole.
1st Runner-Up: Shawn Michaels Assumes Regular Schedule, Reverts to 1996 Form
2nd Runner-Up: WWE Resurrects both the IC and US Titles

Comments: This is a hard one for me to do, because I don't want it to sound, in any way, like I'm reveling in Kurt Angle's serious neck injury.  I am not.  But the serendipitous circumstances tangential to the injury itself bear some mention.  The timing and publicity of Angle's injury caught the attention of a doctor who had a new surgical procedure that he claimed would repair Kurt's neck and have him back in action 10 months faster than he'd otherwise have been.  By all accounts (and assuming current word holds up and Angle's late-year neck problems are not a by-product of the original surgery), the procedure was a success.  Angle won back 10 months worth of ring time and bonus checks.  Fans won back 10 months of his outstanding work.  And perhaps best of all: down the line, future stars unlucky enough to join the all-star cast of those with neck injuries will not have to spend over a year on the sidelines.  Shawn Michaels willingness and capability in taking on an increased schedule was another 2003 Happy Story: instead of a periodic special attraction, Michaels was practically back to his pre-injury self, and, along with Jericho, strapped RAW on his back and carried it to many of its 2003 highlights.  And WWE's decision to revive the IC and US Titles was a very wise and savvy promotional move that gave the Brand Extension concept some much needed oomph at the time of the PPV split, and should continue to give it legs down the line; no doubt, both brands needed that one more thing worth fighting for.


THE bOOby PRIZES

WORST WRESTLER(S) OF THE YEAR: Mark Henry
The wrestler or tag team who, regularly and in key TV matches, displayed the most frustrating absence of in-ring skill and personality/charisma.
1st Runner-Up: John Heidenreich
2nd Runner-Up: Scott Steiner

Comments: In the last half of the year, there was no more demoralizing a sight for me than Mark Henry on my TV.  I like Teddy Long.  A lot.  But Teddy cannot work the matches.  When you can't have good matches against a great opponent (like Henry didn't vs. Shawn Michaels) and when you're reliant on a manager to do ALL your talking and when you're STILL being pushed up the card and into main events, there's something very out of whack.  Look, I shat all over Big Show last year, and he proved me wrong 12 months later.  For this to happen with Mark, he needs to find some (lower profile) role, improve outside of the top-of-the-card spot light, and re-emerge when he's ready to excel.  I just don't want to see an obvious work-in-progress on my screen every week.   Heidenreich is another character black hole and ISN'T blessed with Teddy Long as a mouthpiece;  he also has the added bonus of having matches that don't just bore fans but which also injure his opponents.  Steiner, well, he's found a nice heel niche late in the year, but he also made for a shitty and unconvincing fan favorite early on and gets singled out on this list for the sheer reason of that Royal Rumble outing (and the entire feud, really) against Triple H.

WORST NON-WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Jerry Lawler
The commentator, announcer, interviewer, manager/valet, GM, or other non-wrestler who added the least (or detracted the most) from the TV product.
1st Runner-Up: Al Wilson
2nd Runner-Up: Vince McMahon

Comments: Credit where it's due:  Jerry Lawler was noticeably better in 2003 than in 2002.  But by virtue of having the (difficult, I'm sure) task of being in our living rooms for 2 hours every week for probably about 50 weeks this year, Lawler still had plenty of opportunity for significant "misses" that far outweighed his "hits."  This year, I found myself more annoyed with the King than angry, as I don't think he actually torpedoed the on-screen product with counter-productive commentary nearly as often.  But annoyance still ain't all that pleasant a feeling.  I know King is a comfortable "security blanket" of an announcer: he's always been there, and so it probably feels like he always should, but I really don't know many fans who would complain if WWE thought it was time to give someone else a try on the A-Team.  Al Wilson was approximately 92 times more awful than Lawler... but was only on-screen for about 1/100th as many minutes.  So as channel-flip-inducing as he was, he still only works his way up to #2 on this list.  And Vince... what do I say about Vince?  If there was even an ounce of restraint or moderation in the guy, Vince would be a completely reasonable contender for Heel of the Year.  He is that good when used right.  But "segments that are twice as long as they need to be, not to mention thrice as numerous" is not what I mean when I say "used right."  I'm sorry to say it, but 10 minutes into what should have been a five minute promo, I frequently start to get annoyed by Mr. McMahon.

WORST FEUD OF THE YEAR: Dawn Marie vs. Torrie Wilson
The on-going rivalry that produced the worst in storylines, matches, and promos.
1st Runner-Up: Kane vs. Shane McMahon
2nd Runner-Up: Jim Ross/Jerry Lawler vs. the Coach/Al Snow

Comments: It lasted for only the first month of 2003, and yet, there can be no doubt that Dawn vs. Torrie was the most embarrassingly retarded feud of the entire year.  And, if we're honest with ourselves, of the millennium so far.  And quite possibly of my entire career as a wrestling fan.  All that in one month?  You damn betcha.  I mean, think back on it: first week of the year is the god-awful in-ring marriage with Al Wilson stripping down to his underwear to marry Dawn.  The next week: he is fucked to death in a series of honeymoon vignettes.  Third week of 2003: the uncomfortable-to-watch "funeral parlor catfight."  Fourth week: a PPV "step-mother/daughter" match that rates among the worst trio of contests this year.  Yep, that's the resume of an heroically terrible feud.

The runners-up trail way back in the distance.  I go with Kane vs. Shane McMahon in my #2 spot on the grounds that it not only featured an endless string of eyeball-rolling "goddammit" moments and ended with a decidedly anti-climactic blow-off match, but also because it represented a fundamental bungling of the Unmasking of Kane.  That story should have been a huge, earth-shaking (and most importantly: carefully planned and plotted) development.  Instead, it felt like another in the "well, let's throw this at the wall and see if it sticks" interlude in the Life of Kane.  My third spot goes to the Epic RAW Brand Announcer War.  Necessary, in a way, to advance the long-spanning Austin vs. Bischoff feud, there's still no reason for it to have taken the direction it did or to have lasted for as long as it did.  The revelation that Coach is an outstanding heelish lackey in small doses does not offset the series of horrible matches, nor the distraction the feud caused in terms of preventing the two announce duos from focusing on important issues in their commentary for vast stretches of the summer.

MOST OVERRATED WRESTLER: Scott Steiner
The performer who least deserves all the air time and national exposure he/she receives.
1st Runner-Up: Bradshaw
2nd Runner-Up: Billy Gunn

Comments: Scott Steiner came into the Fed amidst some pretty lofty expectations, and in fact, immediately found himself in a PPV World Title match... which turned out to be one of the worst contests of the year.  Well, maybe not the worst, but certainly the worst of that level of importance.  The fans actually turned on Steiner and the match.  To me, that defines "overrated":  Steiner was pushed into a role that was clearly and demonstrably beyond his capabilities.  In the second half of the year, Steiner started to hit his stride a little bit, aided in no small part by a heel turn which plays to his natural proclivities... but man alive, nobody was as obviously over-pushed as Steiner was early in the year.  Bradshaw, pegged as having singles potential for a long time (even by me, back around 1996) but having never really displayed it, was essentially bailed out and made watchable thanks to Ron "Faarooq" Simmons' decision to return to in-ring action this past Spring.  The welcome reunion of the APA also, however, left me to dread the prospects of Simmons' inevitable pre-Bradshaw-hanging-it-up retirement.  And Billy Gunn makes my list on the grounds that there is somebody, somewhere, who has decided to keep Gunn around, even while Goldust is dismissed.  Are both locked in as career mid-carders?  Yes.  Are both prone to injury?  Yes.  But Goldust is more liable to keep viewers entertained in throw-away segments and in general make the Fed a few more pennies of revenue than the Load will.  Yet Billy's the one they keep; another textbook example of someone, somewhere assigning a higher-than-appropriate value to a particular star.

"GODDAMMIT" MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Al Wilson Strips Almost-Naked to Wed Dawn Marie/Dies on Honeymoon
The awful promo, angle, blown spot, skit, or match that came closest to making you embarrassed to be a wrestling fan; the ugly cousin of the "Holy Shit Moment" Award.
1st Runner-Up: Eddie Guerrero Empties Sewage Truck on Big Show
2nd Runner-Up: The Redneck Triathlon: Austin vs. Bischoff

Comments: I already pretty much covered the Torrie/Dawn feud and how it led to much suckiness in the form of the Dawn/Al wedding and honeymoon.  There is nothing left to say, really.  It was so bad that I mostly could not believe that somebody, somewhere had signed off on letting it make it to TV.  I go with Eddie emptying the sewage truck on Big Show at #2, mainly for the reason that at that point of the year, SD! was hitting its stride, and brought this garbage out of nowhere for no reason.  It didn't just suck, but it sucked in a completely unnecessary and out-of-context way.  And my #3 is the Austin/Bischoff Redneck Triathlon, the stand-out lowpoint of what I felt was the worst PPV of the year (the RAW only Bad Blood); it wasn't funny, it didn't advance any important issues, and if anything it was significant drag on what was an otherwise-engrossing Austin/Bischoff power struggle.  Noticeably absent from my list (to my own immense surprise): any of the Kane/Shane stunts.  They peppered their feud with so many lower-your-head-in-shame moments that I felt wrong trying to single any one of them out.  But if I did, just between you and me, it'd be the Shane's Toasty Nuts one.

WORST "REAL WORLD" NEWS OF THE YEAR: Edge Injures Neck, Out for a Year after JUST MISSING word of Kurt Angle's Less-Invasive Surgical Procedure
The contract signing, promotional move, or other backstage/non-storyline development that seemed bone-headed at the time and least likely to lead to any positive results for the company or the wrestling business as a whole.
1st Runner-Up: WWE Fumbles the RAW Tenth Anniversary Special Quite Badly
2nd Runner-Up: Paul Heyman's Creative Influence Diminished on SD!

Comments: This award is the counterpart to the "best real news" one, and my choice for winner here is also a related counter-point to the one I picked up there.  It would have been bad enough if Edge hurt his neck, but in a twisted sort of way, I think everybody had kind of gotten used to 2 or 3 serious neck injuries happening per year.  What made Edge's deal so much more frustrating is that underwent the old spinal fusion surgery just weeks before Kurt Angle met Dr. Jho and first discussed the less-invasive process.  And Edge is still months away from coming back, as a result (while Angle's already on his second neck surgery since Edge's first and even with that will beat Edge back by at least 2 months).  Edge himself was diplomatic in discussing the timing, but I hope he won't mind if I selfishly get indignant on his behalf: I would have loved seeing him out there kicking ass in June, instead of having to wait until next March.  

For me, the second most disappointing development of the year was just how bland, boring, and forgettable WWE's RAW Tenth Anniversary celebration turned out.  I was completely ready to accept that the Fed would pick different award winners and moments to replay than I would have...  but what none of us were ready for was for rumblings going back to November of 2002 about how many former stars would be invited back and how special the show would be, only to have the actual result be a tepid affair with no surprise guests at all (unless you count the Rock's taped, via satellite piece) and no real historical vibe to remind us just what made RAW last for ten years in the first place.  Total let down.  Last: WWE apparently decided Paul Heyman had no idea what he was doing running SmackDown!, despite the unanimous critical acclaim the show won over the first six or eight months of the "GM era" and the distinct creative teams.  This would have been much more frustrating news, except that the show was turned over to a capable surrogate, Dave Lagana, who was actually something of a Heyman protégé.  Was Heyman missed?  Sure (and just as much on-screen as for his guiding hand).  But it could have been much worse.


THE EVER POPULAR NON-WRESTLING AWARDS

Back again by virtually no demand...  I'm gonna regale you with my thoughts on some of the best and worst of 2003 in categories that have nothing to do with pro wrestling.

Actually, that "no demand" thing, that's kind of a lie.  I actually found out over the course of they year that people actually did keep reading to the end of my 2002 Honor Roll, and some of them even found an album or a website or something they enjoyed thanks to my egomaniacal belief that I, and I alone, know what is awesome and that I should enlighten you plebeians.

So I'm gonna do it again.  If you want me to stop in 2004, you'd better just convince yourself right now that everything I say from here on out is wrong and that you won't believe me or try these things out for yourself or tell me how grateful you are.  But I'm not wrong.  And you WILL believe me.  And you will be grateful.  Even if you don't tell me, I'll know this to be true.

Alright, enough... let's ride.

BEST MOVIE: Mystic River
Man, this was impossible.  "Mystic River" or "Lost in Translation," it could have gone either way.  Each scratched me EXACTLY where I itched, the only problem is that I itched in different places when I saw each movie.  Where one is heavy and dense and loaded with murder and revenging and coppers and stuff, the other is probably a "dramedy" (you know: serious in theme, but occasionally light and funny in execution) that is smaller in scope, looser in the plot details and more a character study.  The rumors are true that Bill Murray is awesome in "Lost in Translation," but at the end of the day, I say "Mystic River" is stronger all around (to apply my Rewatchability Heuristic, it's also the one I'd be more apt to put into my DVD collection immediately upon release).  But really, see 'em both.  Honorable mention to "School of Rock" for being absolutely the funniest and funnest squeaky-clean PG-rated movie I can recall since "The Princess Bride."  And a note: no, as of this writing, I have not seen "Return of the King."  Which, I'm sure, is actually a BIGGER oversight than voting for the wrestling awards without waiting for next Monday's HHH/HBK match.  But looking back on last year, the only thing I'd take back was making "The Two Towers" my favorite movie simply because it was the most recent (when, upon later viewings and reviewings, "Minority Report" was better in my opinion), and no matter how much RotK rules, I wouldn't let myself make the same mistake again this year, so there...

BEST ALBUM: "Youth and Young Manhood" by the Kings of Leon
I get the impression that the Kings of Leon kind of became one of those underground-darling types upon the release of their first full-length CD this summer, but I actually got turned onto them months before that thanks to my drummer.  So I never had a chance to develop that sort of cynicism that I usually do when somebody new comes out with a record that dares to review well.  I liked 'em already when the dim-witted comparisons to the Strokes/Hives/Vines started, and eventually decided "Youth and Young Manhood" is at least as good as Rolling Stone and the ilk said, if not better.  Yeah, it's got some of the classic garage-rock-iness of the previously mentioned bands, but it's more than that that's going on.  More complex structures and definitely a ton of southern twang.  I don't think they sound exactly like anyone, but they sound sort of like a lot of different cool things without it seeming at all forced, if that makes any sense.  This record is very good.  Others you should pick up: the Datsuns self-titled full-length (I don't know for sure, this might be another one of those deals where it was released overseas or on a tiny label in late 2002, but more widely available in 2003, but either way, it was a freaking awesome rock and roll album in the "not even trying to re-invent the wheel" sort of way), and the White Stripes' "Elephant" (which you shouldn't even have to be told about).

BEST DVD (pre-Christmas Division): The Complete Masterworks of Tenacious D
So here's the deal: I know how to work the Xmas mojo... and since I'm writing this pre-Xmas this year, that means I don't have the Ric Flair DVD set yet, nor the four-disc "Two Towers" one.  But I will in a matter of days.  And though I have complete confidence that both will rule the known universe, I cannot in good conscience vote for them today.  But between you and me, I've screwed around with a friend's copy of the Flair one, and I'm quite sure that last year's four-disc "Fellowship" set has me prepared for the "Two Towers" one, and I don't see anyway that "The Complete Ric Flair" won't end up being my most favoritest DVD of 2003.  Followed by the D (which really is a very strong package, combining the 6 episodes I've long cherished with TONS of exceptionally good and funny material I HADN'T ever seen).  Followed by "The Two Towers."  And then everything else.

SIMULTANEOUSLY THE BEST AND WORST HOUR OF LATE NIGHT TV: "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn"
I shouldn't have to explain at all why it's "the best."  There is simply no more unique, smart, and gut-bustingly funny 60 minutes on television.  But why the worst?  Because it makes it so easy for me to feel like I've gotten my day's dose of news that I find myself getting lazy on doing my reading since I can just count on Jon and Colin (and Lewis and Steven and Nick and Norton and the rest) to fill me in.  Damn you, Stewart!  Damn you, Quinn!  And DAMN YOU TO HELL, Infotainment!!!  [Honorable Late Night Mention: to Dave Letterman, for somehow managing to defy the odds and become even more entertaining after becoming a wussbag daddy type.]

MOST DISAPPOINTING NEWS ITEM (TV Division): No New Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2003
I'm doing this again this year just to twist the knife in the guts of those "Sopranos" loyalists.  Your show wasn't the best one on HBO on Sundays in 2002.  And even after we both have to wait extra long, I'm betting it won't be again in 2004.  Curb Your Enthusiasm, where are you?!?

MOST PROMISING DEVELOPMENT (Joint TV/Revenue Generating Division):  All This Poker on TV
I got into playing Texas Hold 'Em thanks to even more motivated friends back five years ago or more.  I'm not sure: it's whenever "Rounders" came out, and they got hooked, and by extension, roped me in.  It's a really fun game, and you'd probably be surprised to find out that it's just as fun and dramatic to watch as it is to play.  Which is what makes the explosion of televised poker tourneys so outstanding in my opinion.  The World Poker Tour (the same 13 shows repeated ad nauseum by the Travel Channel because they had no idea how popular they would become) is the class of the bunch... not just the greatest players, but also the best presentation; Mike Sexton is easily the Tazz of the poker world and is such a knowledgeable commentator that he actually adds to the game (while Vince Van Patton is perfect as his Cole: the barely-adequate toolbox of a partner!  HA!), and there ain't a damn thing wrong with Poker Babe Shana Hiatt, either.  ESPN's retooling of the World Series was also very good.  FoxSports "Poker Millions" tourney was a few steps down, production-wise, but still a good show.  I got no love for this "Celebrity Poker" show, though.  Not only are many of the players really bad, but the show looks like it's being produced for cable access.  Oh, and the real reason I love all this poker on TV: it means that online poker rooms are chock full of rookies who are more than happy to drop their money to merely mediocre players such as myself!  I may not be the real life poker wiz I'd like to be with my strong-playing friends, but I can slice up an online $3/$6 table or one-table-tourney, more often than not.  Thank you, TV Execs!

BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR: "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown
Everybody got their panties in a bunch over "The Da Vinci Code" when it was released this past winter.  Some because they thought it was sacrilegious (it's not, people, it's a WORK OF FICTION, albeit one with a few factual historical anomalies that might annoy you, but also with plenty of obvious conjecture and dramatic license so that it should be well down your list of things to bitch about).  Some because they thought it was the greatest novel of all times.  And it's not that either.  It's not even Dan Brown's best book.  Admittedly, I read and very much enjoyed "The Da Vinci Code"... enough so that I went back and picked up Brown's previous Robert Langdon novel called "Angels and Demons."  It was, in every way, superior to "The Da Vinci Code."  Twisty and turny and unpredictable where "Da Vinci Code" occasionally came sauntering right up Main Street, and with a climax that is exceptionally unexpected-yet-satisfying where this year's book's was intentionally vague, "Angles and Demons" was my favorite novel I picked up this year (it's actually a couple years old and now in paperback).  A perfect piece of Mind Candy to occupy you for a few nights.  Honorable Mention: "Wolves of the Calla" (Dark Tower 5) by Stephen King...  expertly meshed the heart of "Wizard and Glass" with the epic, cross-over mind-fuckery of "The Wastelands."  But I'm gonna do like the Academy with the Lord of the Rings, and refrain from handing out any awards until Steve-O's done with the entire series.  Which, thankfully, is next year.

BEST VIDEOGAME: Coach K College Basketball for Sega Genesis
Hey, my roommate who owned the PlayStation 2 moved out, and I've not been particularly motivated to replace it.  I never really was a huge videogame guy... but that didn't stop me from getting a healthy dose of touches on the 8 year-old EA Sports college hoops game for Genesis.  I won't bore you with the story of why, but me and many of my friends still believe it is the greatest basketball game ever created.  So what the hell?  You can't tell me it's not the best videogame I played in 2003!

BEST REPLACEMENT TOY (Gaming/Technology Division): A Digital Video Recorder (DVR)
The new box that sits under my TV, instead of a PS2, is a Time Warner-supplied DVR.  It saves me a lot of time by allowing me to "time shift" every show I watch (you save 15 minutes per hour by starting to  watch a show late, then fast forward through all the commercials until you're caught up with the live telecast by the very end).  With the exception of live sports and HBO movies, I don't think I watch anything in real time, anymore.  Commercials are for suckers!  Of course, crafty DVR also turns around and wastes my time by making it really easy for me to make sure every episode of any show I'm even remotely interested in gets recorded and saved until I can watch it.  Stuff I'd never remember to sit down and watch on my own ends up taking up hours of my time a week.  Let's just say that DVR has rekindled my affinity for WKRP and Original Recipe Star Trek reruns...  makes anytime feel like 5 o'clock in the afternoon after a particularly grueling day of the sixth grade!

BREAK-THROUGH CONCEPT OF 2004 (Gaming/Technology Division): A DVR with a Built-In DVD Recorder
I'm sure somebody much smarter than me has thought of it, already, but I don't have one, yet, and I don't know if I could even if I had the money, so let me begin my one man campaign for the DVR/DVD-Recorder Combo.  So that instead of being limited to 30 hours of hard drive space, I can immediately dedicate shows and events to DVD (at a 12x burn speed) to free up more space for even more crap!  Give me enough disc space, and watch me remember just how much I liked "Head of the Class" and "Perfect Strangers."  And watch me become an almost completely non-contributing member of society.

BEST PROMOTIONAL MOVE (OnlineOnslaught.com Division): Empowering the Mod Squad
The OO Forums are almost like a separate world.  There is a core group of a couple dozen regulars who have lively and active conversations, a significantly larger bunch of contributors who toss in periodic thoughts to keep things fresh, and hundreds upon hundreds of dirty, voyeuristic lurkers... and until earlier this year, there were also a handful of douchebags (or, as we later came to believe upon further investigation, a grand total of either one or maybe two very lonely individuals with many alternate identities and no other life to speak of) who ran amok and ruined things for everybody else.  Enter the anonymous ModSquad: wielding the same powers as the Mighty Rick, but actually spending time in the Forums every day (instead of twice a week like me), the Four Moderators made the Forums fun for all with their vigilance, and can now spend their time flaunting their authority and presiding over much smaller, less annoying flare-ups.  Thanks to them from me, and even more: from the Forums contributors who enjoy your work on a daily basis.

MOST OBVIOUS OUTCOME (OnlineOnslaught.com Division): Guys Dig the New Broad
So this Erin Anderson starts writing for OO back in the spring, and much to the chagrin of established schlong-possessing weekly columnists, becomes OO's biggest box office hit not name The Rick.  Probably because she's a girl, and you're all REALLY predictable males in the 18-34 demographic.  I mean, hell, I might have just stopped taking my medication, let my repressed transvestite and Jeri-centric tendencies take over once per week, and started calling myself "Erin Anderson" and it still would have gone over like gangbusters?   Hmmm....   you know, that sure would explain why I find myself frequently agreeing and impressed with the insights presented in the Broad Perspective, wouldn't it?  But that explanation would also be a disservice to Erin, who along with Jeb and Matt and Danny and Bulldog and Cubs Fan has become part of the core of OO, the people who make sure you have something good to read every day of the week.

MOST IMPASSIONED PLEA (OnlineOnslaught.com Division): Smoley, Get Off Your Ass and Join The Core!
When your boss is your biggest fan, and you're delivering maybe once every two weeks, you're making a big mistake, Potsie.  To paraphrase the wise man: Here I am now, Entertain me!  Honorable Mention Plea: All you other infrequent and deadbeat columnists, Get off your ass and do something as cool as Brad and I'll single you out with a more impassioned plea. 

BEST WEBSITE (Non-OnlineOnslaught.com, Non-Porn Division): AboveTopSecret.com
Well, a better category name would be "website I wasted the most amount of my time on."  Because you can't have HomestarRunner.com win the award for another year, which it probably should if it was a "Best Website" category.  Win once and get outta the way, that's the motto round here, even if you do have a fearsome Dragon-Man on your side.  TRROOOGGGGDDDDDDOOOOOOOOOOR!

Whoa, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, so, anyway, with my long-standing interest in the broad-spanning category of Weird Shit, I found myself quickly enamored with www.AboveTopSecret.com this year. Yeah, you got some real nutjobs there, but you learn to identify them and either avoid them or get a hearty laugh at them (the new agers and people like the "chemtrail" crowd are particularly hilarious), and you will actually find some interesting stuff.  Do I believe all the Weird Shit I read about?  Hell, no.  But I enjoy the exercise of reading it and figuring out what nuggets might have some relevance to those of us who live in the real world, and not on the ninth moon of Xaxxonia awaiting the return of the Mothership.  The "nugget" most responsible for getting me hooked: a little something about what was going on under Yellowstone park this summer and fall.  Do a little reading on THAT subject, and maybe you'll end up just like me: putting this website right there in the same folder as HomestarRunner (the visit-once-a-week-to-see-if-there's-anything-interesting folder), you know, just to be on the safe side. 

MOST DISAPPOINTING NEWS ITEM (Bar and Tavern Division): Exodus of Big Mike and Melissa (Two of The Rick's Personal Bartenders)
I like my Personal Bartenders.  They make my life so much easier.  They know me, they know what I drink, and as soon as I walk in, they have the full glass (and a little friendly banter) waiting for me before I can even whip out my wallet.  For a while now, I've been cruising at about a half-dozen Personal Bartenders scattered about town.  One might drop out every year or two, but would be replaced after only a brief period of searching, tipping, and General Good Customership.  Well, this year, I lost two of my favorites, and they have yet to be replaced.  Big Mike (of The Hills) is the only guy I know who intentionally poured what HAD to have been money-losing drinks (his $3.50 single of Maker's on the rocks was at LEAST a triple, sometimes even more generous, if it was coming my way), and he never took it personal that I was a Yankees and Pacers fan although he was a Mets and Knicks fan; he landed at a casino somewhere in New York State.  Melissa (of The Timeout) wasn't much of a stickler for pouring by-the-book singles, either, and wins serious bonus points for taking care of me so attentively while frequently sporting IQ-loweringly spectacular jeans; she split town for the more hospitable environs of South Carolina.  Thinking back only makes me realize what I'd do to have one or both back in town.  Or at least to have them call up their respective replacements and explain to them how this little operation is supposed to work when a man of my obvious wealth and taste walks in. 

MOST PAINFUL SPORTS ANGUISH: Dayton Flyers (#4) Lose to Tulsa Golden Hurricane (#13) in NCAA Tournament
So by now, everybody knows that I'm a Reds fan, I'm a Yankees fan, I'm a Hoosiers fan, I'm a NY Giants fan, I'm a Pacers fan... but above and beyond all that, I am a Dayton Flyers fan.  Why?  Because I suffered through so much Flyer pain in my years here that, now that we're good, you'd better believe I'm clinging on extra tight to my spot at the head of the bandwagon so that nobody else can usurp my spot.  So I invested even more into the Flyers' run into March Madness this year than into any other sporting interest, be it Super Bowl or World Series, in my memory.  And with good reason: we were rocking the kasbah, won the A-10 tourney, and earned ourselves a #4 seed, and had completely sane and rational designs on a trip to the Sweet Sixteen and Possibly Beyond.  And then we lost to freaking Tulsa.  It didn't just hurt me to know our season was over, it hurt me that people all over the nation saw my Dayton Flyers (fourth seeded and the favorite) get beat by 13th-seeded underdogs, and immediately drew a negative (but inaccurate) conclusion.  It's OK if I want to crap on the Flyers, folks, because I've lived it and done the homework.  But it pains me immensely when others do it.

MOST BORING METROPOLITAN AREA: Muncie, IN
College graduation: it should be the one excuse for a big-ass party that you canNOT screw up.  Unless you're my brother who graduated Ball State this year.  Maybe somebody can help me out, here... is the best thing you've got to do on a Saturday night really karaoke at Chi-Chi's?  On the upside, I had the chance to just sit in a chair and tie on a truly heroic and debilitating drunk. And that ALMOST made the episode tolerable.  Oh, and my drunkenness also resulted in a few really sloppy exchanges with my youngest brother in which we must have sounded VERY convincing, because we ended up making our aunt SINCERELY BELIEVE our middle brother (absent because he couldn't get away from LA) is quite gay without even meaning to.  That's a funny story that never would have happened if I'd actually, you know, had something to do and some reason to stay ambulatory in Muncie.

MOST PRESSING CURRENT TASK: Hiding From Muncie Natives for Long Enough to Finish the Super-Duper 20-something Part OO 2003 Year in Review
Oh, keep it to yourself, Muncie.  I actually half suspect that it's my brother who is lame, not you.  I mean, from what I saw you're not helping the cause much, but country music sing-alongs at Mexican chain restaurants can't be your finest in weekend entertainment.  I refuse to believe that.  So leave me alone.  I'm just ribbing you a bit, is all, and I got work to do.  This Year in Review is gonna be HUGE.

Look for Part One during the week of January 5 (hopefully on Monday, if I don't let myself get too sidetracked).
 

E-MAIL RICK SCAIA
BROWSE THE OO ARCHIVES

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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