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OO YEAR END EXTRAVAGANZA
The Rick's Best and Worst of 2005 
January 16, 2005

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

There's no reason to sugar-coat it: 2005 wasn't exactly the greatest year to be a wrestling fan.

Devoid of serious competition, WWE continued its 20 month downward spiral, more intent on presenting the product that they -- with their stubborn, narrow tunnel-vision -- are interested in, instead of a product that the fans will embrace and get excited about. Nowhere was this more clear than as 2005's defining climax turned out to be a final month where the most-excited fans got all year was showing up to boo the living daylights out of WWE's supposed lead babyface and poster boy, John Cena. Misread your audience much, Vince?
  

In a lot of ways, WWE has become such a well-oiled machine that they truly awful doesn't get to rise to the top any more. With the exception of Chris F. Masters, you simply don't see true incompetence being pushed to main event status, anymore. But you do see a trend towards watered-down, slow-motion "WWE Style" Matches that

only work when you have larger-than-life, popular characters performing them. And with those types of characters at a premium these days, the one-time "must-see" factor that defined WWE's weekly programs is gone, replaced by a "these guys, just going through the motions again? Meh, I'll watch '24' instead" vibe.

It's not that the weekly product was consistently bad in 2005. It's just that it was consistently boring. You rarely felt like you were gonna tune in and see something exciting or special. And when WWE of 2005 tries to be exciting and special? Those are often the best weeks to stay the frick away, because "exciting and special" no longer means "interesting and creative." It means "mind-numbingly retarded."

WWE almost certainly has the pieces to still be every bit as good as they were during their last truly hot stretch in early 2004.... or at least, they did until an array of releases and walk-outs left WWE minus at least a half-dozen of their most bankable performers and key role players. But more than ever, the ability to put those piece together in a way that engages the fans seems to have gone missing from the Fed. 

It's something that would sure be nice to have back in 2006. Because another year where the most memorable highlights include tragic deaths and a one-night return of the ECW is not something I want to have to deal with 12 months from now. I'd like something I can sink my teeth into as a fan.

Not another year where trying to come up with three worthy entries for some of these categories almost felt like pulling teeth. Enjoy the results of my labor, folks...

 
THE VERY BEST OF 2005

BEST WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Shawn Michaels
1st Runner-Up: Kurt Angle
2nd Runner-Up: Batista

Comments: In a lot of ways, you could just flip a coin between Michaels and Angle. They both did a ton of good work in 2005, and truth is, they did most of it with each other in a feud that started in January and was still not settled by the end of the year. Together, the pair had two of the best 5-6 matches of the year and delivered tons of intense promo/story work, as well.

I, however, give the nod to Michaels for the simple reason that when he and Angle took a break from terrorizing each other, Michaels accomplished the more-remarkable thing... he got one last good match out of the reanimated corpse of Hulk Hogan at SummerSlam. And along the way, sold the feud with killer heel-tinged promos that were just truthful enough that as soon as the match with Hogan was over, fans instantly embraced him as a babyface again.

Angle, away from Michaels, was asked to do some pretty retarded things by the writer monkeys. But the truth of the matter is he was asked to do them because the writers were running out of ways to make fans boo Angle, whos all-around excellence and entertainment value practically forced fans to cheer for him. When the fans simply can't bring themselves to boo you, no matter what stupid things you say/do, you must be doing something right.

And Batista rounds out the list, as much because of the burden placed on his shoulders as because of what he did with it. The Road to WM21 was essentially Batista's story, and coming out of WM21, Batista convincingly won his feud with HHH before getting shunted over to SD!. Where, sadly, he spun his wheels for a bit before gaining traction in a feud against Eddie Guerrero... for about 2 and a half months, the old Batista was back, and looked ready to carry his half in the feud that was gonna "make" him, once and for all. Of course, it didn't turn out that way, but you can't lay that one off on Batista.

BEST TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR: America's Most Wanted
1st Runner-Up: MNM
2nd Runner-Up: The Dudley Boyz

Comments: After about 3 years of giving AMW a token #2 or #3 vote here, acknowledging their in-ring excellence, I can finally -- in good conscience -- vote the the very best tag team in the world. Why? Because, they finally broke through and started doing all the OTHER things that good pro wrestlers need to do. Like be distinctive enough that I can be bothered to know your individual names and tell you apart. One funeral for the Dudley Boyz, and that mission was accomplished in 2005. And now they've got full-blown personalities and catchphrases to go with everything else (like the fact that they are rare on the TNA roster in terms of having WWE-type size and look, and are also capable of slowing down their ring work to actually tell a story with their matches). That makes them the best, hands down.

That thing about telling tag partners apart? Ummm, well, that's the next hurdle for MNM, who were the only halfway decent WWE Tag Team all year long, but still rarely shone through as anything other than them there queers what hang out with Melina. Consider that their assignment for '06... because everything else? Came together great for MNM. They had borderline-excellent matches with all kinds of opponents, and showcase a true tag team ethic and smooth/effortless teamwork that's uncommon in the WWE tag ranks.

The Duds worked, what?, a third of the year, I think.... and they're still the easy #3 in this category. Their importance in jump-starting Impact on Spike TV cannot be denied, nor can their contributions at the main event level for TNA. Throw in their vital participation in the excellent One Night Stand ECW PPV, and I think the Duds each this spot over just about any other also-ran tag team out there.

BEST FEMALE PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Trish Stratus
1st Runner-Up: Victoria
2nd Runner-Up: Lita

Comments: Duh. This'll be the first time in a few years I don't find a spot for Trish on the "Most Improved" list, just because she's pretty much maxxed out all her power meters. She's so awesome, it's almost scary. But there are always new and exciting ways to put all those different maxxed out abilities together to create fresh awesomeness. Which is what happened in '05. Try as they might, WWE could not keep Trish a heel in the fans' eyes, resulting in at least one memorable promo (I think at MSG) where Trish did EVERYthing in her power to take boos directed at Lita and pretend they were hers, but it only made the fans cheer her even more. So that basically meant it was time to see if Trish and WWE could take her personality (newly found and perfected during the Love Rhombus and her heel turn) and present it in a babyface light. A few unexpected funny bits with Viscera, and before you knew it: Trish was a full blown fan favorite. Needless to say, the combination of in-ring work and actually being likeable/relatable in backstage skits/promos makes Trish an almost singular female performer in the entire history of wrestling. 

The expertly-portioned-out ass cleavage never hurts in terms of keeping eyeballs riveted, either.

Victoria's #2, just because she's the only other ring-capable chick who spent an entire year on the active roster, and was always rock solid in whatever grunt duty required of her.

#3's tougher. It could go to Mickie James based on a partial-year effort that shows a lot of promise. After that, you're pretty much limited to non-wrestlers. And once you whittle that list down, there are really only two choices: Melina or Lita. And I can't explain how or why, but Melina seems like a manager/second, while Lita somehow retains her own independence and character despite being linked to Edge, now. Even though I know in my head that's just a perceptual filter, I can't stop from feeling like that means Melina's category to win comes later, and Lita -- by sheer virtue of being the easy #1 girl-heel in all of wrestling despite not wrestling a lick all year -- gets to be on this list.

BEST FEUD OF THE YEAR: Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle
1st Runner-Up: Batista vs. Eddie Guerrero
2nd Runner-Up: Triple H vs. Batista

Comments: Duh, Part Two. It lasted almost the entire year and delivered some of 2005's best matches (including the best match on the biggest show of the year). If I have to explain any further, than you didn't watch enough wrestling in 2005 for ANY of these awards to make any sense, so you might as well just stop reading, now.

I know a lot of people are gonna be looking for places to give Eddie "sympathy votes" here at year's end, and I'm guessing in so far as he gets any in this category, they'll be for his feud with Rey. But I can't do that. As stupid as Eddie vs. Rey got, I will not do anything to contribute to that being any part of Eddie's lasting legacy. Instead, I give Eddie vs. Batista the #2 spot here, and I do it with the caveat that even in just the 2 months or so it lasted, it was very, very entertaining... but there's also a dimension of this vote that is for the potential the storyline held. For a month, everybody assumed Eddie was just feigning friendship with Batista. But through it all and through an entire PPV match, Eddie stayed true to his word, to the surprise of all... for a month after that, the friendship actually seemed to intensify. And the beauty part was: even if you still thought the heel turn was coming, you'd gotten so engrossed in the friendship that you almost didn't want to believe it was inevitable. Eddie turning on Batista to take the World Title and Batista roaring back to regain the belt would have elevated both men up a notch, and would likely have carried SD! into WM22. It was already fun for what it was, but when you ponder what was yet to come... it gets even better.

I give a nod to HHH/Batista, as well, since it was the storyline that essentially carried RAW into WM21 and headlined that show. And once Batista took the title, the feud continued to its logical climax, in which Batista swept a three match series from Trips. No Randy-Ortoning Batista here. Hunter did what he could to "make" Batista, and it likely would have been plenty if only Batista wasn't next asked to go to SD! and try to make a go out of a feud with used-up JBL.

BEST MATCH OF THE YEAR: Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle (WrestleMania 21)
1st Runner-Up: Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Daniels (TNA PPV, August or September-ish)
2nd Runner-Up: Money In The Bank Ladder Match (WrestleMania 21)

Comments: Numbers 1 and 3 shouldn't surprise anybody. I think anybody who saw most/all of WWE's PPVs in 2005 would put those two on their short-list (along with the Michaels/Angle rematch, Flair/HHH at Survivor Series, and Michaels/Hogan at SummerSlam), simply because WWE had a shitty fucking year in terms of delivering the kinds of matches that make you go "Wow, I'm going to be watching and rewatching that one for years to come." Part of that is the "toned-down WWE Style," but a lot of it is also a failure to create Big Match Atmospheres. To be honest, I remember the specifics of so few WWE matches that I think my short list really was maybe only 7-8 matches long of matches that I even remembered watching without having to re-read my own recaps. And all on PPV, too. WWE didn't even really sneak in any worthwhile, memorable Free Per View Matches, either (the closest they came was Shelton/Michaels back in May-ish).

So mentally ordering my short-list, I come back to the fact that I just really liked these two WrestleMania 21 matches. A lot. They and One Night Stand are the only DVDs I bothered getting this year and thus, they are among the only matches I actually did re-watch. Both hold up amazingly well to repeat viewings.

The surprise? Sneaking in at #2, I'm giving a nod to TNA, who had just started to create some buzz and big-time atmosphere around Samoa Joe for their PPV in August or September (I forget which one, but it was late during their hiatus from having a TV show, and I got the tape in the mail pretty much concurrent with the Spike TV debut)... that three-way for the X Title stands out EASILY among all TNA matches I saw all year in terms of meshing amazing action with sizzle and a touch of historic significance as the night that maybe "made" Joe with fans (and not just with The Rick).

MOST FAVORITE PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Chris Jericho
1st Runner-Up: Tajiri
2nd Runner-Up: Molly Holly

Comments: Why must I defend my picks here in a purely subjective category? Oh, right, I don't.

Look at these three. What do they have in common? That's right: they're not on RAW anymore, and all three pretty much left the company of their own accord. We shall save the speculation and talk over the reasons why for a later award to be handed out to Johnny Ace, but for the time being, it's enough to say that if you asked me to name 10 persons on RAW who I know would be a smile on my face simply by appearing on a given Monday night, and asked me this question back in February, Jericho, Tajiri, and Molly would all be on that list.

Since I know there won't be places to squeeze my fondness for them in any place else in this document, I honor them here, in the one category where my picks don't have to make sense to you. They only have to make sense to me. And the simple fact is that WWE TV would be a better place -- I think for ALL fans, not just ones who share my specific tastes -- is one or all of these three were on it. 'Nuff said.


THE OTHER BEST OF 2003

BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER: Chris Benoit
1st Runner-Up: Chris Daniels
2nd Runner-Up: Kurt Angle

Comments: For all intents and purposes, this is a Benoit/Angle award for them to trade and fight over as long as both remain active. In the all-important category of "making wrestling look believable," the two just are heads and shoulders above just about everybody else who is competing in a significant (national/international) spotlight. This year, I thought that Benoit had the better, crisper outings, while Angle got distracted with a few things that did not play to his technical strengths (including a fun/silly feud with Eugene, and a feud with John Cena that was, necessarily, more focused on brawling than on grappling). Daniels sneaks in, because he's really distinguished himself as TNA's X Division Technician; Joe's more the brawler, everybody else is way more a flyer, but Daniels can work crisply without leaving the mat for vast stretches of time.

BEST HIGH FLYER: Rey Mysterio
1st Runner-Up: Paul London
2nd Runner-Up: Elix Skipper

Comments: Another case where I'm sorry if I'm being uncreative, but this really is Rey's award to lose in any given year. I'm not rewarding just Wacky Flippy Moves... I'm rewarding Rey for having a wide, if now-established-and-not-particularly-evolving, high-flying moveset that he executes to absolute perfection. Rey isn't just defined by flying, he's defined by flying more gracefully and safely than 95% anybody else doing it. A lot of spot-artists -- even well-regarded ones like AJ Styles -- make you cringe in fear just a little bit every time they leave their feet. Rey just drops your jaw in a way that doesn't make you feel the least bit guilty or concerned. London is the massively-under-rated Best of the Rest in terms of WWE, with a superb flying arsenal and the body control to execute it well. And for the 2nd or 3rd year in a row, I put Elix Skipper on this list, representing TNA, because he's the one guy I see who, on a consistent basis, almost matches Rey's level of grace and effortlessness when doing truly amazing things.

BEST BRAWLER/POWER WRESTLER: Triple H
1st Runner-Up: Big Show
2nd Runner-Up: Abyss

Comments: Even just working two-thirds of the year, HHH did more than enough to earn this award. By competing in marquee matches and main events, he was put in situations where he'd regularly have to go 20 minutes with little more than his punch-kick-sledge arsenal, but he almost always made it work and delivered the goods. He even did it against different style opponents; he was out-powered against a guy like Batista, but then against Flair, he was the bigger, more physical of the two. Trips worked both sides of that coin in 2005. Big Show has really found his niche, and when not paired up against giant wastes of space like Snitsky, delivers surprisingly entertaining, engrossing matches despite a dearth of technical expertise. And Abyss is really only a "power wrestler" by virtue of being in TNA, where 6'3" or so qualifies you as a "monster," apparently; but either due to increased exposure to him or an actual upgrade in Abyss' performance level, I finally did find him a credible brawler in the mold of early Mankind. And only 3 years after TNA created the character with that precise goal in mind.... oh well, maybe I'm just a bit slow on the uptake?

BEST INTERVIEWS: Christian
1st Runner-Up: Edge
2nd Runner-Up: JBL

Comments: Here's the deal... everybody knew Christian could talk going back to the hijinx of E&C. But once Christian dared to go to the ring (intended to be more just a prop/patsy) and upstaged Vince McMahon in Madison Square Garden, the world got a taste of just how far Christian's mouth could take him. And after upstaging The Boss, Christian spent months frequently upstaging The Champ, John Cena; in a lot of ways, you could argue that it was Christian's riffing on Homey The Clown that really started the snowball effect of boos for Cena, or at least set the tone that "when Cena is in the ring against somebody else you like more, it's OK to boo Cena." For the most part, Christian has also not disappointed at all since jumping to TNA, although it's a lot easier to shine as a Personality there. The other half of E&C had an incredibly effective year being an incredible prick; Edge did it in a couple different ways, too. One minute, he'd really over-play the character of the whiny, victim-y, "everybody's out to get me" to make you almost want to slap him for being such a bitch; the next, Edge would display the rare and uncanny knack for being able to weave together "shoot" and "work" to create intense, realistic "shworks" where you more wanted to punch him in the face for being such a pompous, disrespectful ass. And JBL? Well, we all know it's not his ring-work that entertains the people... the fact that he's still such a viable singles wrestler 9 months after he really ran out of gas as a legit title threat is a testament to the fact that JBL talks a great game.

BEST HEEL: Jeff Jarrett
1st Runner-Up: JBL
2nd Runner-Up: Edge

Comments: TNA's fans fancy themselves smarter or more discerning than the average wrestling fan. TNA's fans are -- at least the majority of ones in Orlando -- a bunch of self-deluded jack-offs. For every legitimate claim one could make about Jeff Jarrett's on-going NWA Title reign creating a sense of stagnation, the simple fact is that until VERY recently, Jeff Jarrett's the only heel in the company. The only guy who it seems like people would want to pay to see lose. TNA's fans think that Jarrett is "boring," but their own reactions to him betray the truth; "boring" is what happens when Chris F. Masters appears on TV and gets no reaction. What happens when Jarrett gets on TV and inspires an intense, visceral reaction out of the crowd within 2 seconds of opening his mouth? That's not "boring," that's called "pressing your buttons, you bunch of stupid marks." As noted in the above category, JBL's getting by on personality and the fact that he makes people not like him very much, and the fact that he's still an upper-card singles wrestlers means he's doing it well. And also as noted above: Edge had a great year at being a jerk, and being lots of different kinds of jerk.

BEST BABYFACE: Rey Mysterio
1st Runner-Up: Shawn Michaels
2nd Runner-Up: Undertaker

Comments: For the first calendar year that I can recall, Rey Mysterio never once contended for the Cruiserweight Title. He was, for the entirety of 2005, playing with the big boys. And proving that he BELONGED with the Big Boys. Whether it's simple Underdog Sympathy or what, no other wrestler in the world so universally gets fans on his side in the late stages of a match. It was so noticeable this year that I honestly believe that Rey has gotten to the point where he could honestly be booked as a World Title Challenger, and in the right story/match, even win the title. Fans would eat it up. Michaels is often in kind of the same spot as the plucky underdog, and with years and years of goodwill stored up with fans, can count on big pops when he hits his End Game and his now-codified Five Moves of Doom. Taker's always a good bet for this list; nobody elicits such a strong reaction from fans by doing so little. I don't mean that as a knock on Taker's seemingly diminished ring-work in 2005, but rather a compliment that he's developed his character/persona to the point that a simple rolling-back of his eyes of a "slitting the throat" gesture pops the fans.

BEST CHARACTER/GIMMICK: Muhammad Hassan 
1st Runner-Up: Ken Kennedy
2nd Runner-Up: Eugene

Comments: Here is where I tell UPN, the self-righteous politically-correct douchebags, and probably a good 80% of internet "pundits" to go screw themselves. The impression I get is that most people were pleased as punch when WWE just packed it in and axed the controversial Hassan character... but all you were doing was cheering for a Money Character who would have easily been contending for Heel of the Year if only he'd been allowed to stay past the middle of 2005. [And I over-simplify a bit, too, as there were mitigating factors with the dedication of the guy playing the role that prevented Hassan from returning after a "cooling off period," but you get the idea.] Yes, the debut of Hassan's "Terror Cell" was a misstep, but not an uncorrectable one, and NOT a misstep for the reasons most of the self-righteous wieners climaed. It wasn't offensive, and it wasn't a willfully-thoughtless act on WWE's part; no, it was a misstep because up till that point, the Hassan character was multi-dimensional, realistic, and the reason he'd get booed is BECAUSE HE WAS ACTUALLY RIGHT ALOT OF THE TIME. A lot of potential was flushed away when the PC Police struck, and WWE bowed to their wishes. Ken Kennedy is a distant second, and makes the list with a gimmick that's only barely a gimmick (which are the best kind, in a lot of ways): wrestlers need to be announced, and if Kennedy so happens to think he's the only Ring Announcer who can do himself justice, well, why not handle those duties? And get massively over in the process? Eugene, the wrestling retard, rounds out my list, more because of the potential of the character (to "channel" past wrestlers, or to do backstage storylines including what I'm betting could be an almost sickeningly-sweet-but-perversely-cute romance with Poor Dim Maria the Mic Stand) than because of anything WWE's actually done with him in the last year.

An Honorable Mention goes out to Concussed Randall Orton, who made many appearances over the first 2 months of 2005. Never has Orton's on-screen character more perfectly resembled what one must assume his is off-screen True Nature than when he'd get that "Far Away Look In His Eyes." [tm, Jim Ross] Concussed Idiot is the role Randy was born to play, that magnificent dullard!

MOST IMPROVED WRESTLER: Abyss
1st Runner-Up: Samoa Joe
2nd Runner-Up: Christy Hemme

Comments: Abyss, whether due to caliber of opposition or booking or just flat-out upping his game, finally made it onto my radar in 2005. For years presented as a guy fans were supposed to take seriously in the NWA Title picture, he only actually ascended to that level of plausibility with some of the performances he turned in this year. His association with Jim Mitchell doesn't hurt from a character-perspective, either. An admission: I didn't "get" Samoa Joe until maybe August or September. I still remember seeing him at a podunk indie show (ROH, maybe) at the Fairgrounds here in town maybe 2-3 years ago, and not "getting him" then, either. In fact, those of us who went to that show didn't just "not get" him, we were all "who the hell is that guy, and why's he holding a title?"... even as Joe apparently improved his work and also added something resembling a personality (albeit a very quiet, actions-louder-than-words one), I let that original impression color my opinions. But after weighing all the more recent evidence, I can safely say that the Samoa Joe I saw in the second half of 2005 is NOT the same one I saw in 2003, and easily deserves a spot on this list. And I'm putting Spaz in at #3 here, because for as awful and as out-of-her-element as she was when pushed WAY too soon into a WM match for which she wasn't prepared, she was approximating in-ring-watchability by November. So of course, once she starts making these noticeable strides, she got fired, but that's Johnny Ace for you....

MOST UNDERRATED WRESTLER: Shelton Benjamin
1st Runner-Up: Christian
2nd Runner-Up: Chris Benoit

Comments: This award is meant to honor the most startling and criminal cases of "potential" exceeding "push." In 2005, Shelton Benjamin was the poster boy for having his push reduced FAR below the point of his actual marketability and potential; just 18 months ago, Shelton was defeating HHH and electrifying fans. For most of the second half of 2005, Shelton was relegated almost exclusively to "Heat" (which wasn't even on TV anymore), and would frequently lose matches to the ilk of Matt Striker. There is something just absolutely wrong about that. Christian, by sheer force of personality, upstaged bigger names like Vince McMahon and John Cena in the spring, and seemed to punch his own ticket to the main event; but instead of capitalizing on Christian's breakout performances, WWE punched his ticket back to SD!, and then punched his ticket for being jobbed out less than 2 weeks into his stint there, and basically convinced Christian that the only ticket left to be punched in 2005 was the one that goes to TNA, where the pond might be small, but at least management isn't so insecure and ass-hatted to prevent him from being the biggest possible fish he can be. Benoit's story is like Shelton's, albeit not quite as extreme: from World Champ 18 months ago to spending most of his year contending for the US Title in sup-bar feuds/matches. Given what Benoit's capable of and the reactions he generates, it's almost sickening that he had as quiet and underwhelming a year as he did in '05. All I can say is that it wasn't his fault. No matter what undercard grunt work had to be done (making Orlando Jordan entertaining, anyone?), Benoit still brought it.

BEST SECOND: Melina
1st Runner-Up: Daivari
2nd Runner-Up: Sharmell

Comments: Melina, Daivari. Daivari, Melina. I could really have gone either way on this. But then I realized one simple thing: Muhammad Hassan would have gotten over without Daivari. But without Melina and that ring entrance, M and N would be absolutely nobody but two nameless flamboyant metrosexuals. Well, OK, bad example, since I still can't be bothered to tell them apart, but you get the idea. Both Melina and Daivari excel at what they do, and bring a lot to both the action and the story of the matches where they are at ringside. But Melina has an added "necessity" factor that Daviari lacks, and thus, she gets the nod. Sharmell's a pretty easy call at #3; there were some tough moments in the middle of the year where TV would have been better without her on it, but from the start of the year (as the cool, confident broad in her babyface role) and to the end (where she really found her niche and was instrumental to Booker's heel turn and continued heel status), she's been very effective.

BEST TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Tazz
1st Runner-Up: Jim Ross
2nd Runner-Up: Joey Styles

Comments: In a year when the core product didn't deliver a whole lot of memorable moments, there were a dearth of opportunities for announcers to truly shine. Even the best announcers is only a side-dish (at best) to the multi-course meal that is a strong pro wrestling presentation. But with GMs having an off-year in terms of importance and quality of contributions, and with this being the year that an arrival by Vince McMahon brought with it more dread that something stupid was about to happen (instead of the anticipation that something important would happen), three announcers sweep the category just be being themselves. Tazz is the perfect blend of humor, analysis, and gravitas. JR is, in many ways, the signature voice for WWE, and gives it his all every time out to make sure that any viewer who doesn't quite know what to think falls under the apprehension that he just watched the Super Bowl of Wrestling. And Joey? He's saved us from Coach, and that alone deserves some kind of award.

"HOLY SHIT" MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Shawn Michaels Superkicks Hulk Hogan
1st Runner-Up: Paul Heyman Shoot Promo at ECW One Night Stand
2nd Runner-Up: Trish Stratus Goes All Hannibal Lecter at RAW in Atlanta

Comments: Here's how surprising Michaels superkicking Hogan was to me... I vividly remember this, because it happened on the Forth of July, and I had been at a party that night. Some people at the party had been keeping an eye on RAW in between the fireworks and the revelry. At one point after the fireworks, somebody tried to tell me that he thinks Shawn Michaels beat up Hulk Hogan. On the grounds that this made no logical sense (and because this was a crowd that both thought that a Diva Search Wardrobe Malfunction that night was AWESOME, and who also could not identify Chavo Guerrero), I dismissed the kooky talk. Then I got home after midnight, where Poor Erin Anderson was in the middle of recap duty, and blurted out something about "Wow, what a pretty awesome surprise!" before I could remind her that I don't like spoilers. I, in, fact loathe them. So she clammed up, and eventually I had a date with DVR to watch my recording. And despite everything that had been said to me, I still managed to be shocked when Michaels turned on Hogan in that final instant of the show. So that's pretty much gotta win for me. And One Night Stand was a haven for a free-wheelin' kind of product that reminded one of the "anything can happen" days of the Monday Night Wars. When Heyman shot all over Bischoff, JBL, et al, you couldn't believe your ears. It's not WWE's style to let that much of the quasi-truth be broadcast out over their airwaves, but Heyman let loose with all he had, and it sure felt good to watch and experience some of his vicarious vindication.

A purely selfish (or at least partially self-referential) #3... so I'm watching RAW back in March-ish, and the show's in Atlanta, and I've already been told what signs to look for cuz Erin Anderson and Jason Longshore are seated at ringside, but other than that, it's pretty much just another middlin' show. Until Trish Stratus busts out a backstage promo likening herself and the awful things she wants to do to Spaz to Hannibal Lecter. Why a "Holy Shit" moment? Because for the entire preceding weekend (and into Monday afternoon), the headline picture at OO was of Lecter, and the headline column was Erin Anderson pining for a Lecter-esque heel who had the ability to truly intimidate fans and opponents. And then, as OO's #1 Broad is seated front row, WWE's #1 Broad busts out the spOOkiest of homages. Coincidence? I don't know. I just know that it's just about the most surprised I was watching wrestling all year. Which is either me being a whore for self-promotion, or WWE failing to deliver enough of the REAL goods.

FUNNIEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Drunken Vader Falls Down, Goes Boom
1st Runner-Up: Christian, Bentley Claus, Traci Lampoon Jeff Jarrett
2nd Runner-Up: Trish and Viscera Go On a Date

Comments: With wrestling's "entertainment" quotient on the decline, it's telling that the two things that still make me laugh hardest from 2005 were (1) an unintentional comedy classic when a possibly-intoxicated Vader was unable to stand upright on RAW back in October, and (2) TNA's own rare foray into the realm of the Entertainment. WWE tried to offer up bits of humor throughout the year, but most were unfunny or spotty (like the hit-and-miss WM movie spoofs). But to get them a token entry on the list, I think I feel OK giving a shout out to Trish Stratus and Viscera's non-romance; the nonmance featured a couple weeks of comedy coming from a VERY unexpected source, at least.

BEST WRESTLING SHOW: Monday Night RAW
1st Runner-Up: SmackDown!
2nd Runner-Up: TNA Impact

Comments: For all its faults, RAW's still live and periodically chooses to not suck. It's the one wrestling show a week that I basically plan an evening around (yep, still to this day), and it's the one wrestling show upon which I'm willing to expend my copious recappening skills. SD! may be tangibly lagging behind RAW in terms of star power and sizzle, but it's still the easy #2 show in any given week. But this is the closest Impact has come to legitimately cracking that Top Two, as they start to find a compelling blend of action and entertainment as their year closes on Spike.

BEST MAJOR EVENT: ECW One Night Stand
1st Runner-Up: WWE WrestleMania 21
2nd Runner-Up: WWE Royal Rumble

Comments: Mania had the two great matches, but offered up no real surprises, nothing unexpected, and in a lot of ways, limped home in its final hour or so. One Night Stand didn't deliver anything quite as indisputably excellent as Angle/Michaels or Money in the Bank, but they DID deliver 3 jam-packed hours of action and excitement the likes of which WWE has not delivered in ages. Every segment matters, and each segment built to a hugely satisfying conclusion. The Rumble was a definite sleeper PPV this year, but going back over my recaps, there's no doubt -- with four out of five matches on the show being "very good or better" == that it was the show I liked third best of 2005.

BREAK-OUT PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Samoa Joe
1st Runner-Up: Edge
2nd Runner-Up: Christian

Comments: As alluded to above, 2005 is the year I "got" Samoa Joe. And I don't think I'm alone. He went from pretty much a nobody at the start of the year (sorry ROH) to arguably the #1 "homegrown" (i.e. non-WWE/WCW/ECW cast-off) talent in a nationally televised wrestling company. In fact, Joe pretty much when from nobody to maxxing out his potential in 2005; short of TNA making great strides to be a legit competitor to WWE or Joe jumping to WWE, I'm not sure what more he could possibly accomplish to make him a bigger star than he is right now. Edge turned heel late in 2004, but it was only as 2005 progressed that he really solidified himself as a viable upper-card guy with feuds against Michaels and Flair and his theivery of Lita from Kane/Matt Hardy (depending on which version of the story you like better). Christian broke out in April and May in WWE, convincing just about every EXCEPT WWE management that he should be considered a serious player; then he broke out again in November, when he debuted for TNA and immediately proved that he IS a strong enough personality to be a lead player.

BREAK-OUT PERFORMER OF NEXT YEAR: Ken Kennedy
1st Runner-Up: Bobby Lashley
2nd Runner-Up: Harry Smith

Comments: When a guy debuts, and inside of 2 months has a hard time staying heel and a hard time getting fans to NOT mimic his catchphrases, you know he has the "it" factor. Kennedy's got tons of "it" and as soon as he returns from his injury, it's basically a function of WWE's Writer Monkeys not doing anything stupid with him. Of WWE's debuting class of 2005, Kennedy honestly is the only guy who should be within sniffing distance of main events or title shots during calendar 2006. Lashley would be next closest, though he might be served well by a heel turn and the addition of a mouthpiece/manager; then again, with Lashely-supporter Kurt Angle now on SD!, who knows how far or fast Bobby could rocket up the card? Harry Smith is a wildcard pick, but surveying the landscape, a growing sentiment seems to suggest that Davey Boy Smith's son did a smart thing by avoiding the WWE developmentals when he turned 18 several years back, instead opting to train and gain experience all over the world. And now that it's a question of "when" and not "if" he'll join WWE, I feel like taking a flyer on the kid who many think might show Randy Orton a thing or two about being a young prodigy with a famous daddy.

BEST "REAL WORLD" NEWS OF THE YEAR: TNA Debuts on Spike TV
1st Runner-Up: WWE Announces New Comprehensive Drug Testing Policy
2nd Runner-Up: Joey Styles Signed to be New RAW Lead Announcer

Comments: No two ways about it.... if wrestling as an entire industry is to get healthy, WWE needs competition. TNA's move to Spike represents the start of that process, and hopefully one of these months, WWE will be shaken out of its complacency and tunnel vision and get back to trying to present a product their FANS like, rather than one Vince McMahon likes. I would never say that something good came out of Eddie Guerrero's death, because that's a stretch; but if WWE got "scared straight" into testing its wrestlers after Eddie died? Well, that wouldn't be a bad thing, either. When it was deemed necessary to remove Jim Ross from television, it didn't take WWE much longer than it took fans to realize that Jonathan Coachman simply was not ready to carry an entire 2-hour broadcast each week. Enter Joey Styles, who has done an admirable job stepping into a tough situation.


THE bOOby PRIZES

WORST WRESTLER(S) OF THE YEAR: Chris F. Masters
1st Runner-Up: Heidenreich/Road Warrior Animal
2nd Runner-Up: Viscera

Comments: There are only so many ways to say "Chris F. Masters Sucks." And I spent the majority of 2005 saying them. From his humble beginnings as an incompetent buffoon who injured his opponents to his mid-year dalliances as an incompetent buffoon who couldn't even stand on the ring apron during a tag match without fucking up to the close of the year as an incompetent buffoon whose push for some reason continues unabated despite an absolute dearth of any evidence to suggest the fans give a shit about him, Masters has taken a palpable lack of ability further up the card than anybody in a long time in this business. Just awful. The tag team that some charitably call "Legion of Doom 2005" do not deserve that name any more than they deserve to have stuck together for longer than a cheap, one-month nostalgia run to sell some DVDs. And yet: the tag titles were there's and they're entering Month 8 of Stinking Up The Joint. The #3 spot could reasonably have gone to any number of people who bring almost nothing into the ring. But Vis gets the award because he also performs the dreaded Greco Roman Butt Rape, and that simply cannot be tolerated. 

WORST NON-WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Don West
1st Runner-Up: Linda McMahon
2nd Runner-Up: Larry Zbyszko

Comments: At this point, it's clear that Don West is going nowhere. But I'm still not gonna stop hating his work and his grating voice. TNA tries to be a wrestling company that sells the top-quality in-ring work ahead of all else, and they have a play-by-play man who seems incapable of correctly calling more than 2 moves in a match? Baffling. Linda McMahon is just death as a TV performer; even attempts to display emotion during a heel turn failed miserably. And Larry Z just gives me the gripes something wicked. Even going back to his WCW announcing days, and again now almost each and every week on TNA, you get the impression that he's more interested in making sure Larry Legend gets over than he is in hitting his lines, making a lick of sense, or properly telling the stories he's involved in so that the -- you know -- ACTUAL WRESTLERS can benefit from having him around as a figurehead. It's like nobody bothered giving Larry the memo that he hasn't been relevant since the 1980s.

WORST FEUD OF THE YEAR: McMahon Family vs. Jim Ross/Steve Austin
1st Runner-Up: 3 Live Kru/4 Live Kru vs. Itself
2nd Runner-Up: RAW vs. SmackDown!

Comments: It led to JR being excused from announce duties (permanently). It led to Austin getting fed up and opting to not be a part of RAW. It led to (ugh) a Linda McMahon heel turn. And it led to Dr. Heinie. Yep, even if it only lasted a month or so, that's some damned bad TV. Heroically bad. And while McMahons/Austin/JR was ultra-condensed, TNA's worst feud of the year was guilty of being so spread out over so long that it lost any possible impact it could have had on fans. Konnan, Road Dogg, Ron Killings, and Billy Gunn started a-feudin' and a-fussin' back when TNA was on FOX Sports Net. And they didn't bother settling anything until almost 10 months later. Throw in my raging ambivalence towards Billy and my loathing of Gonnad, and that's a feud that got on my nerves an awful lot. RAW vs. SmackDown! wasn't so much bad as it was massively disappointing given how significant such a feud should be. But from a relatively hot "Draft Lottery," the feud went dormant until it was inexplicably resurrected in October, with nary an explanation as to why, nor with any tangible prize on the line. Guys just started going back and forth as they pleased, it seemed. A HUGE missed opportunity to tell that story right, if you ask me.

MOST OVERRATED WRESTLER: Chris F. Masters
1st Runner-Up: Monty Brown
2nd Runner-Up: Konnan

Comments: The inverse of the under-rated award, this goes to the guy whose push most exceeds his demonstrable potential. Chris F. Masters, a winner is you. Pushed into PPV main events by year's end despite having a comfort level in the ring that would make a lot of first-year trainees blush... but he's been sticking things in his ass long enough that Johnny Ace identified him as picture perfect to be another Gay Porno Ready musclehead whose appearance on TV would placate noted-fan-of-the-male-physique, Vince McMahon. I might have "gotten" Samoa Joe in 2005, but I'm still baffled by the appeal of Monty Brown; non-sensical promos that are only sporadically amusing, sloppy in-ring work, and one of the worst-looking finishers in wrestling... and he's one of TNA's biggest homegrown stars? Nuh uh. And Konnan? He's contributed a lot to the wrestling business, but what he needs to contribute next is his absence from TV... 10 freaking months of TV telling a story that needed maybe 2 months? That's just not right.

"GODDAMMIT" MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Vince McMahon as "Dr. Heinie"
1st Runner-Up: Eddie Guerrero Claims Paternity of Rey Mysterio's Son
2nd Runner-Up: Rob Schneider Joins Forces with Diva Search 2005 to Create the Voltron of Suck

Comments: Do I need to explain "Dr. Heinie"? The night Vince McMahon -- as a proctologist -- pulled things out of a mannequin's ass and pretended it was Jim Ross? It's not edgy, it won't get people talking... it was just unfunny and stupid, and should have been embarrassing to anybody who had a role in it. The Eddie/Rey feud veering off into the paternity issue pissed me the hell off, too. If ever two guys didn't need such vapidly retarded crap to have great matches and entice the fans, Eddie and Rey are they. But that didn't stop the writer monkeys. And Rob Schneider showing up to incompetently hit on Useless Divas? Wow, those are two great sucks that suck great together.

Honorable to Tim White's suicide, which sounded awful, but thankfully, I knew enough to stay the fuck away from that PPV

WORST "REAL WORLD" NEWS OF THE YEAR: WWE's bungled Talent Relations and Dwindling Moral result in talented wrestlers being released and other talented wrestlers willingly walking away from the company, and yet, Johnny Ace is permitted to continue at his job.
1st Runner-Up: Injuries, a Depleted Roster, and Shoddy Booking Create Impression that SmackDown! is the Minor Leagues
2nd Runner-Up: Jim Ross Forcibly Retired Due to the Whimsy of Vince McMahon

Comments: There are tons of talented performers who left WWE when Johnny Ace deemed them unworthy of contract renewal. Obviously, the biggest names among this group are the Dudleys. There are tons more talented performers who walked away from WWE of their own accord rather than put up with the day-in-and-day-out horseshit of a company that's just no fun to work for anymore. These would include Christian, Chris Jericho, and even Molly Holly. A lot of the asshatted roster moves that happened in 2005 can be traced back to WWE management simply not comprehending the relative value of various performers (both monetarily, but also in terms of what they can do in the ring and on TV that others simply can't). And when you trace anything back to WWE management, most of these roster moves fall under the purview of everybody's favorite incompetent sycophant, Johnny Ace. I could probably start a wrestling show with the performers that Ace has either fired or alienated since ascending to power 20 months ago, and it would draw better ratings than SmackDown. OK: that's exaggeration. But it's also still a vigorous indictment against Ace and anybody else who is contributing to ill-conceived roster cuts and the creation of WWE's worst morale/atmosphere problems in a long time. Compared to the winner here, the other two items are also-rans. SD! really did take it up the pooper, first in the Draft Lottery, where RAW was again the "winner," and then later in the year when tragedies and injuries made it necessary for SD! to basically spend a month using a pair of RAW wrestlers as their top heels. And what to say about JR? His dismissal is just another fine example of WWE (specifically Vince McMahon) wasting energy "fixing" a problem that doesn't exist... there's a laundry list of things that really DO need fixing, but replacing the ugly announcer with somebody more photogenic is Vince's top priority. I don't know if that makes me sad or angry. Maybe I'll just split the difference and laugh as a defense mechanism so that I don't have to fully wrap my brain around how stupid this situation was.

 

There you have it, folks. I wish I could close with some pithy sentiment about how "Well, at least it can't get any worse in 2006." But the truth is, it can. Because wrestling in 2005 wasn't really aggressively bad... it just sort of contracted back into a fairly predictable and underwhelming weekly display of formula. The action is gone, the sizzle only rarely appears, and as a result, the Joy Of Watching has been greatly diminished.

But "tending to be a bit boring" is still a LONG ways from "bad." And so I can make no promises or forecasts about 2006. Not when the industry (or at least, WWE) seems to have settled dead-center on the Quality Continuum, and could easily sway either way. It is my hope that increased competition from TNA (and perhaps even a sense of personal pride) motivates WWE to right the ship and give us back our weekly TV shows that were a pleasure to sit down to. Instead of weekly TV shows that we sit down to with the naive hope that "maybe this'll be the week they finally get it turned back around."

That'd be nice, wouldn't it?


  
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E-MAIL RICK SCAIA

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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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