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Fight Booth PW 2016 Mid-Year Awards

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When we began Fight Booth a couple of years ago our goal was to cover all things fight. As an independent site we may have bitten off more than we could chew right from the start – and that’s ok.  It’s all about finding your way organically and that’s what we’ve done.

Somehow, since our inception, we’ve become more of a professional wrestling site first.  We’ve been blessed with such an amazing pro wrestling staff and this little mid-year awards piece is just another example of why Fight Booth is one of the many must visits for your daily pro wrestling needs.

So, without further ado, here’s what three of our PW vets: Matt Addie, Lady J and Dave Reno had to say about the best of the best in pro wrestling as we close the book on the first half of 2016.

• Best Tag Team

Matt AddieNew Day, WWE – Until they stop rockin’….

Runner-Up:  The Young Bucks, NJPW/ROH – These guys deserve a nod as the world’s most consistent tag team. I’ve never seen a bad Young Bucks match (if you know of one, don’t ruin it for me).

Lady J: American Alpha, NXT – If you’re looking for quality tag team wrestling, NXT is putting on a clinic. The matches American Alpha has had with The Revival have been some of the best tag work of this year. While I think both teams deserve the credit here American Alpha also have the added bonus of a great back story, with Jason Jordan working hard for a long time before he found the perfect partner to help him get to the next level in Chad Gable.

Runner-up: The Hooligans, AAW – if you’ve never seen these guys, get on that right away. They’ll blow your minds.

Dave RenoThe Young Bucks, NJPW, ROH – It doesn’t matter if it’s NJPW, ROH or PWG – every time Nick and Matt Jackson step into the ring you’re looking at the best tag team in pro wrestling today. At this pace, they’re currently in their 5th (2nd this year) run as IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champs and 2nd with Kenny Omega as NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Champs, it’ll be tough to go against them at the end of the year when we set these picks in stone.

Runner-up: The New Day, WWE – If you don’t smile when The New Days graces you with their presence then I simply cannot help you. Everything Kofi, Big E & Xavier touch is solid gold. If we’re talking about they’re work outside of the ring, Xavier’s UpUpDownDown YouTube channel and Big E’s work on the 2nd season of Swerved only help their case.

• MVP (Most valuable wrestler to his/her promotion)

Matt Addie: Jay Lethal, ROH – As a basketball junkie, I am drawing parallels with the NBA’s often disputed Most Valuable Player award. What does valuable truly mean? Is it the best player, or the most valuable? The argument has been around as long as the award. This time, I’m staying true to the meaning behind value, and going with Jay Lethal. By letter of the law, it’s probably always John Cena; he’s the top guy in the top company. In 2015-2016, though, Jay Lethal may have a case when we look at value. Arguably, he’s one of the ten best professional wrestlers in 2016 outside of this context. Adding in his importance to Ring of Honor, it’s hard to deny him a top spot in the industry. He’s held that championship for over a year, which creates a fascinating moment when he’s dethroned.

Runner-up: Seth Rollins, WWE – Crazy, right? He’s barely wrestled, but I’m sticking to my guns and using the true definition of valuable. The obvious void left at the top of WWE by Seth Rollins’ injury makes it rather easy to call him one of the most valuable wrestlers. Having Seth around just makes everything better.

Lady J:  Cage, Lucha Underground – Season two of LU has been a runaway train of incredible matches for Cage. He’s had more than one incredible match with Johnny Mundo, a barn-burner with current LU champion Matanza, made Taya look like a million bucks, and even sold grumpy Lady J on a match with Chavo Guerrero. I would watch this guy wrestle anyone and everyone.

Runner-up: The Miz, WWE – If you need to get someone over, put them on Miz TV.

Dave Reno: Tie – Finn Balor/Bayley, NXT – NXT needed these two powerhouses to get on the map as a legit touring brand. And they both knocked it out of the park night after night putting on performances in intimate venues that will live with their fans for a lifetime.

Runner-up: Jay Lethal, ROH – At 376 days and counting, his title reign lives on. Even without Truth Martini by his side over the recent months, Lethal has proven that he’s the most valuable guy for the number 2 promotion in North America right now and there’s no reason that should change until Final Battle in December – or even beyond.

• Most Improved Wrestler

Matt Addie: Roman Reigns, WWE – Setting aside his likability, Roman Reigns has undeniably improved as a wrestler in 2016 (and prior). He has grown into something more than the Superman Punch & Spear machine that he once was. Most recently, his matches with AJ Styles and Seth Rollins prove that he can hold his own in the squared circle, whether we want to admit that, or not.

Runner-up: Becky Lynch, WWE – She was already great, but I’m giving her a nod for recently finding her groove as a character on the main roster. Hey WWE, see what happens when there is more than one story in the Women’s Division?

Lady J: Baron Corbin, WWE/NXT – Everyone liked his squash matches when he showed up on NXT again over a year ago, but that Goldberg stuff gets old quick. Fortunately, Corbin found his footing as a cocky heel quickly, and people seemed to enjoy hating him. It was the matches that still needed work, and by the time he was wrestling Austin Aries at NXT Takeover: Dallas, he had proved himself.

Runner-up: Killshot, Lucha Underground – Not really improved as much as they are using him in a way that shows more breadth of character. We’re getting a wider variety from him and his work is so beautiful. Really excited to see even more of KS in season 3.

Dave Reno: Roman Reigns, WWE – If you’re one of the folks that has been chanting “you can’t wrestle” to Roman Reigns then we’ll just assume that you’re either having fun or straight trolling. Sure, you don’t like the way he’s been shoved down our throats and he has a long way to go when it comes to his work on the microphone. We get it. But come on now, have you watched his matches over the past 6 months? He held his own against the likes of Triple H, AJ Styles and his former stable mate Seth Rollins in the biggest events of the year and while he may not be on your top 10 list – he’s certainly on his way to your top 20.

Runner Up: Nia Jax, NXT – She already had the look and the lineage. Now, after getting some solid work in with NXT, she’s looking like the true in-ring powerhouse we always knew she could be. That said, she still has a little ways to go. We’d love to see her get a nice run with the title down there as a true wrecking machine before getting called up to wreak absolute havoc on one of the brands sometime next year.

• Top Heel

Matt Addie: Kevin Owens, WWE – We want to cheer him so badly, but he just won’t let us; he’s that good. Owens is starting to achieve what Paul Heyman has made famous in the Reality Era – a heel we boo out of respect. Kevin Owens transcends smart fans who cheer their favorite heels and boo the top faces. He achieves the result he sets out for, and that’s damn admirable in 2016. He has stellar matches and kills it on the mic. If I’m drafting for the brand split, Owens is a 1st or 2nd rounder.

Runner-up: Chris Jericho, WWE – Stupid Idiot!!!! (Third Runner-Up is me for voting Chris Jericho as Top Heel Runner-Up in 2016. Drink it in, man.)

Lady JSami Callihan, AAW, PWG – I hate this guy. He says things no one should say, but is 100% willing to go to the limit to back his words up. I want to see him take a beating (and he usually does) but also want to see him take his opponent to the limit. He may not be the biggest wrestler around but he sure is the baddest (RIP Moxley.)

Runner-up: Jack Evans, Lucha Underground – You want to talk about someone I look forward to getting their comeuppance, it’s The Dragon Slayer of Lucha Underground. Jack Evans is the walking, talking, luchador definition of a “little shit”, and so you love to watch him lose – but you love it more when he gets on the mic and makes you boo him out of the Temple.

Dave Reno: Tetsuya Natio, NJPW – The leader of Los Ingobernables’ blatant disregard for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship during his run is more than enough to make him my heel of the half-year. #Tranquilo

Runner-upChris Jericho, WWE – At 45-years young it feels like Jericho is having the time of his life. He appears just as youthful as anyone in the ring today and he certainly has the verbal chops to back it up. He looks like he has a whole lot left in the tank and if he does he should spend all of it as a heel because he does it oh so well. Hopefully everyone else on the roster is taking notes while they still have this legend around them in the locker room.

• Top Face

Matt AddieBayley, NXT – You just can’t deny what happens to a room when Bayley enters it. Usually, when someone has that sort of talent, the in-ring ability struggles behind. Bayley is the exception to that rule (if it’s a rule at all; I just made it up). I’m worried about her eventual promotion to the main roster, but until then, she’s a top face in the industry.

Runner-upEnzo & Cass, WWE/NXT – Their debut was on fire, and they haven’t cooled down since that first night. Big Cass held his own during Enzo’s brief (and scary) hiatus, and Mr. Amore might already be in contention for WWE’s best promo. That ‘Best Tag Team’ status is theirs to take.

Lady JBayley, NXT – The only person more John Cena than John Cena, at this point, is Bayley. If you’re looking for ultra good, triumphing over evil, look no further than former NXT Women’s champion Bayley. She’s a hero to young women everywhere, her struggle to become a champion is one you get swept up in quickly. Also she has weird inflatable waving guys in her entrance and wears bows in her hair. ULTRA. FACE. STATUS

Runner-upSexy Star, Lucha Underground – You cannot argue with Sexy’s status as pure babyface. Her storyline overcoming Mariposa and Marty the Moth on LU rivals the story of Daniel Bryan overcoming The Authority at WrestleMania 30.

Dave Reno: Bayley, NXT – The easiest pick of the bunch. Ever since Daniel Bryan’s unfortunate career ending injuries there has been no question as to who is the top babyface in the world today. It’s Bayley!

Runner-up: Moose, ROH – Who doesn’t like doing the Moose chant at live ROH shows? He became a huge hit in Japan this year and it’s looking like we may see him in NXT sooner rather than later. Prepare yourself for the Moose TakeOver.

• Best Moment

Matt Addie: Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech, WWE – I was there live, so the bias is admittedly off the charts, but Daniel Bryan’s “grateful” speech is 2016’s best microphone segment to date. Calling it the “best moment” is misleading, since we hated saying goodbye to Bryan, but it was certainly a massive moment. The segment acknowledged the impact of concussions on the wrestling business in a very honest, real way that had not been done on the air. The speech was the single best promo of Daniel Bryan’s career; he covered everything, and he reached us all. I don’t have much more analysis other than the goosebumps I have right now as I reflect on being in that arena for that moment.

Runner-up: Zack Ryder winning the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania, WWE. Why? Because there were 33-1 odds against it, and I called it. Shameless pick.

Lady JThe Return of Dario and Matanza Cueto, Lucha Underground – The key to something as chaotic as Aztec Warfare is to have one strong turning point. This season, that turning point came when Dario Cueto appeared, flanked by his terrifying brother, to reclaim what was rightfully his. Everything stops and he shouts “my name is Dario Cueto and this is my temple!” There was no denying, in that moment, all of Lucha Underground (including the believers there and at home) belong to El Jefe.

Runner-upDean Ambrose wins the MITB briefcase/cashes in on Seth Rollins, WWE – For all of the nonsense and heartache being an Ambrose fan has caused me over the past year (and that’s a whole other article, really) I couldn’t help but become an emotional mess during the MITB match, and the subsequent cash-in.

Dave Reno: The Bullet Club turn on AJ Styles, NJPW – Even though we knew AJ was leaving Japan, the way they made it happen was something special.

Runner-up: Ambrose wins MITB and cashes in on the same night, WWE – An example of what was supposed to happen, happening. And now we get to watch it pay off in spades. Everything just feels right in the “Universe” right now with Dean Ambrose as your WWE champion.

• Best Match

Matt AddieShinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn (NXT TakeOver Dallas) – Yeah, I just watched it again and I’m not sure that I can watch another match for a while. Obviously, Nakamura’s debut added enormous anticipation and pageantry, but that match was great on its own. It’s also about time that Sami Zayn gets thrown into the “best in the world” conversation. I can’t remember doing one of these without choosing a match he was involved in (keep reading).

Runner-upKevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro vs. The Miz (Extreme Rules). – The Miz is in a Best Match pick! Fatal 4-Way matches can be such a disaster, but this was the opposite. The Owens/Zayn dynamic, Cesaro’s general brilliance, and The Miz heeling it up all added up to a great show.

Lady J: “No Mas”, Sexy Star vs. Mariposa on Lucha Underground – I have trouble imagining this won’t be everyone’s MOTY come December. While some other matches might have strong stories, or tight maneuvers, this match has everything: a powerful story, incredible ring work, terrifying violence, and an outcome that will make you cheer and cry and scream and remind you why you watch wrestling. And on top of everything else, it’s not a “women’s” or “diva’s” match. It’s two wrestlers, one winner, and a match you’ll never forget.

Runner-upFatal Four Way at Extreme Rules, WWE – This is the fastest 20 minute match I’ve ever seen in my life. I could not believe what I was watching – definitely match of the year for all of WWE.

Dave Reno: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn (NXT TakeOver: Dallas) – We all knew this would be Zayn’s final match with NXT. We clearly all knew this was Nakamura’s NXT debut. We all knew this had match of the year potential written all over it. That still didn’t prepare us for the absolute magic that would take place. And to learn later that these two had never even touched before the first time they locked up in the ring on this night? Amazing.

Runner-upWill Ospreay vs. Ricochet (BOSJ – Day 6) –  This match was on par with any choreographed fight scene in any action movie. The only difference was that they did it live. There was no second take. Ospreay and Ricochet were super heroes on this night. Hey, maybe this was all just “flippy sh*t” to some. You can go ahead and call me crazy but the first thing that came to my head after watching this match was that we just saw two future WrestleMania headliners doing work.

• Best Event

Matt Addie: NXT TakeOver Dallas – It overshadowed WrestleMania. What else can you say?

Runner-up: The Edge & Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness – I’m reaching, and arguably taking advantage of the category, but I’m going for it. The previews for The Edge & Christian show on the WWE Network left incredibly low expectations. I remember saying out loud: “no way I’m watching this.” Yet again, I’m glad that I ignored myself, because this show does indeed reek of awesomeness. I could write an entire piece on its best moments (hmmmm…), but off the top of my head: Shockmaster, Christian puts Gillberg over, Bayley as the therapist, Stardust being interrogated, and the Tommy Dreamer pose. When does Season 2 come out?

Lady JAztec Warfare, Lucha Underground – One match, the whole night, with an unbelievable outcome. This is like the Royal Rumble in WWE, but the managed to seamlessly fold all of the LU characters and story lines into one massive match. Not only that, it created new feuds and helped move the entire show into the next section of its storytelling.

Runner-upNXT TakeOver: Dallas – Two words: Shinsuke Nakamura.

Dave Reno:  Wrestle Kingdom 10 – So much goodness on this card that I don’t even know where to start. I’d just like to take this moment to thank NJPW for giving us the best pro wrestling event of the year during the dead of winter when nothing else is going on around these parts. If you’ve yet to catch this event and you ever get bored with a few hours to kill, go watch it in its entirety. It’ll remind you why you love pro wrestling.

Runner-upNXT TakeOver: Dallas – Zayn vs. Nakamura, Asuka vs. Bayley & Joe vs. Balor all at their best and all on the same event. If wasn’t for this event the sh*t show that was WrestleMania this year would’ve stung even more.

• Best Promotion

Matt AddieNXT – It is WWE’s biggest competition right now, which is insane. Lucha Underground is probably the best alternative, but it’s created something of its own kind, and shouldn’t be compared to WWE (it deserves better). NXT has become much more than a pit stop on the way to Monday Night RAW; it’s a legitimate destination for wrestlers. Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura, Eric Young, Bobby Roode, and Finn Balor prove that NXT is not your traditional developmental territory.

Runner-upLucha Underground – Lucha Underground deserves consideration as long as it’s around. We all get tired of WWE, and LU is a totally different flavor. There are folks more qualified than me to speak on this promotion, so I won’t embarrass. I simply enjoy watching it on television.

Lady JLucha Underground – I can’t say enough about LU, because it hits all of the key points that I love best in wrestling: a variety of in-ring styles, strong storytelling, and intricate character work. If you’re looking for flavor and intrigue, LU is it. Also the fanbase is AWESOME, inclusive, and fiercely protective of the thing they love. No spoilers here!

Runner-upAAW – If you are lucky enough to live in Chicago or are visiting during an AAW event, make sure you attend. You will NOT be disappointed. I know they’ve worked hard over the years to make their product great, and they’ve succeeded.

Dave Reno: NJPW – From WK 10 to Dominion and everything in between (especially this year’s BOSJ) every NJPW has been top-notch so far this year. Their relationship with ROH has been a refreshing win-win for both promotions. And even after losing Nakamura, Styles, Gallows & Anderson to WWE/NXT, New Japan managed to make the right choice by promoting the talent they already had to the top of the card. Omega and Naito wouldn’t be where they are right now if everyone stayed put and that would be a crime in itself. Don’t expect things to slow down either with G1 on the horizon.

Runner-up: Ring of Honor – This is where the true stars are still coming from. The wrestling is top-notch, the characters are given creative freedom (it shows) and the relationship with New Japan has been unbelievably positive as stated above. Still my favorite live wrestling show to catch every time they come to Dearborn, Michigan.

• Best Female Wrestler

Matt Addie: Charlotte – Sometimes you watch a sporting event with several talented athletes, and one stands out. They don’t just play better than the rest; they seem like they’re playing at a different speed. If it’s a Little League game, you want to ask the coach to provide a birth certificate for the freak athlete bombing home runs. If it’s professional wrestling, you are wondering how Charlotte has become this damn good so quickly. She certainly has the genetic makeup for it, but she got into wrestling relatively late compared to others. There are superstars who stand next to Charlotte and appear as if they’re not ready because of her brilliance (hi, Dana Brooke). Sasha Banks may have the most star potential, but Charlotte is the foundation of WWE’s Women’s Division. That moonsault at WrestleMania? Forget about it!

Runner-up: Asuka  – She excels at the little things. I saw her live at a NXT event in Seattle, and walked away amazed. Asuka’s attention to detail is phenomenal; she sells, she knows when to play off the crowd, and that smile is a weapon. If I’m handing out an award for best in-ring psychologist (male or female), Asuka might get it.

Lady JIvelisse – Former two-time LU Trios champ, current (and ONLY 2x) Shine champion, Ivelisse wasn’t having a great beginning to her year. She was injured earlier, but is getting back on her feet now, cashing in Shine’s version of Money in the Bank to win her second title there. But regardless of her ability to compete, the episodes of LU that aired in the first six months of this year reaffirmed what a strong competitor Ivelisse is, and how much better she’s going to be with every passing year.

Runner-up: Asuka – Not only is Asuka capable of having five-star matches with high caliber wrestlers, she can get three and four star matches out of people who are still learning. Asuka brings the best out of her competitors, which is a highly coveted quality to possess. She will likely be the glue of the women’s division of NXT for the that very reason for quite some time.

Dave Reno: Asuka – She’s yet to suffer a defeat in singles competition since joining NXT. She’s the deadliest wrestler on the roster and yes, her smile can be seen in both the dreams and nightmares of fans depending on the type of person you are. Asuka is an absolute gem.

Runner-up: Bayley – I don’t think I’ve been more worried about what they’re going to do with any wrestler moving up to the main roster than Bayley. Hopefully she’s handled with Triple H gloves because her time in NXT, up to and including the past 6 months, has been an absolute joy to watch.

• Best Male Wrestler

Matt AddieAJ Styles – Is AJ Styles the best all-around professional wrestler in the world? I’m starting to consider it. When performers come to WWE from outside promotions, they are rarely given the opportunity to make a main event impact. Styles was given that chance, and skyrocketed to the top of WWE’s power rankings in a few short months. I’m fascinated by his ascent, and his ability to adapt so quickly in WWE. I expected him to flirt with mid-card titles, and only be relevant to hardcore internet fans who thought he deserved more. I was wildly incorrect. His stellar performance has forced WWE to trust him in any situation. In his first six months, Styles has worked with a future Hall of Famer (Chris Jericho), the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion (Roman Reigns), and the face of the company (John Cena). He leads a stable, sells merchandise, and makes every single move count. AJ Styles has been the best male wrestler of 2016.

Runner-up: Shinsuke Nakamura – Nakamura is a huge star, whether he’s performing in Japan, WWE, or a bingo hall.

Lady J: Ricochet – Ricochet’s work outside of LU is what makes him the best around. The matches he has had on the indy circuit in the US and over in Japan are going to be matches that people look back on decades from now and call something special. He’s another one who elevates the level of the people he works with. If you can raise the standard of the wrestling on a card by encouraging others and working patiently and diligently with your partners and opponents, you are an asset not to just to the promotion, but to the entire industry. If you’re looking for “The Guy”, Ricochet is it.

Runner-up: Tommaso Ciampa – I’ve seen Ciampa wrestle many times on TV, but getting to see him live is a whole different level, and I appreciate him much more now. His movements are very clean and land with intention. He clearly has vision in his style, and makes sure the audience gets way more than their money’s worth with every match.

Dave Reno: AJ Styles – The best pro wrestler in the world today single-handedly brought the “big match” back to WWE beginning with his feud with Chris Jericho. Since making his promotional debut back at this year’s Royal Rumble he’s exceeded every great expectation we’ve had of him based on his prior work. And I have a feeling that the best is still yet to come.

Runner-up: Kenny Omega – 2016 has been the year of Kenny Omega and it all started when he took over as the new leader of the Bullet Club at New Year Dash. His match against Michael Elgin (the first ladder match in NJPW history) at Dominion was just the latest example of why this guy is one of the toughest S.O.B’s in pro wrestling today. Keep a close eye on Omega at this year’s G1 Climax.

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