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Last year I did an awards article entitled The Viewies® where I handed out my awards for the 2013 wrestling season. With six months already out of the way and six more to go in 2014, it's high time for a mid-season look at the awards. Consider these the Pre-Viewies®
Wrestler of the Year: Kazuchika Okada
What was turning into an exciting sprint to the finish between Okada and Daniel Bryan has turned into a quiet jog in the race for this year's Wrestler of the Year award. Okada lost the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and Daniel Bryan was injured and was forced to forfeit his own world title. Okada likely won't have a chance to regain his title until at least September or October, and Bryan is on the mend for god knows how long, so there is the possibility that another name could sneak in during the second half of 2014 and win the award, with the most likely candidates being Michael Elgin and AJ Styles.
With all that being said, Okada has had a tremendous start to 2014. He opened the year with a tremendous world title defense against Tetsuya Naito in front of nearly 40,000 fans at Wrestle Kingdom 8 in January and continued to have awesome title matches against Kota Ibushi and AJ Styles. With the growing force of NJPW's other heel stables, Suzukigun and the Bullet Club, Okada and the rest of his CHAOS stablemates have found themselves as babyfaces for the first time, adding a new angle to his character. With the arrival of AJ Styles, Okada's championship reign of nearly 400 days came to an end. However, with his charisma, steady in-ring work and youth (amazingly still just 26 years old) Okada figures to be a major player in the wrestling industry for at least another decade.
Tag Team of the Year: The Young Bucks
More than anybody, The Young Bucks get around the globe. The duo have held tag team championships in three different time zones and are constantly working on all parts of the globe. They have had a fantastic series of matches against various tag teams, from rEDragon, to the best Friends, to Time Splitters. They are a part of two of the most impressive factions in wrestling (The Bullet Club and Mount Rushmore) and are probably the most engaging heel tag team on the circuit. The Bucks are not tough, but they don't pretend to be, they are just classic, dirty rotten cheaters. They work fluidly in the ring in a way that only The Briscoes can match. Simply put, no tag team is doing a greater variety of things with such a high quality then the Bucks.
Runners-up: reDRagon, Time Splitters, The Bravado Brothers, Team Dream Future
Women's Wrestler of the Year: Manami Toyota
This was probably the hardest choice out of all the awards. If AJ Lee had been a constant factor during the first half of 2014, she would earn the award but she had such a long absence that it's hard to give her the award. Cheerleader Melissa has been very good, but has lacked the exposure of some of her rivals. The usually vaunted Knockouts Division in TNA has been without any direction for a while.
That led me to choose Manami Toyota. Toyota is undisputedly the greatest female wrestler in the history of the industry, and despite being 43 years old, is still an extremely profound competitor. She captured the World Women Pro-Wrestling Diana world title in April and has worked all over Japan with talents young and old. Outside of AJ Lee, she is probably has the most drawing power of any women's wrestler, so combined with her still outstanding ring work, she gets the nod.
Runners-up: AJ Lee, Cheerleader Melissa, Sareee
Best Technical Wrestler: Kyle O'Reilly
The undersized O'Reilly really is the second coming of Bryan Danielson on the indy scene. O'Reilly has combined smooth chain wrestling maneuvers with vice-like submissions into becoming perhaps the best pure wrestler in the world. His ability to counter maneuvers into deadly submission holds is incredibly reminiscent of Kurt Angle, and he really is an artist when it comes to working inside a wrestling ring. His size might limit him from finding major success, but that is what people said about Bryan, proving the adage that you can't stop talent true.
Best Brawler: Tomohiro Ishii
Ishii realistically only has four moves. He has a brainbuster, a side kick, a punch, and a forearm. That is less than Cena, Hogan, Warrior, or any other "Five Moves of Doom" worker. However, unlike those three, Ishii is able to consistently put on top-flight matches, mainly because he is REALLY good at what he does. Ishii is built like a bowling ball and wrestles like one too. He rolls around the ring, bludgeoning his opponents with machine-gun like forearms and trying to bash his victims face into their skull. He has had fantastic matches with Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito and Tomoaki Honma and doesn't seem to be slowing down as the year progresses.
Runners-up: KENTA, Katsuyori Shibata, Roderick Strong, Kevin Steen
Best High-Flyer: Kota Ibushi
The wizard-like Ibushi just continues to have phenomenal matches. He opened the year by capturing the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship from long-time rival Prince Devitt and hasn't relinquished it since. He has had a great series of title defenses, including a barnburner against Ricochet at NJPW's Dominion PPV. He has also ventured beyond the Jr. Heavyweight division, challenging Tomohiro Ishii for Ishii's Never Openweight World Title in another instant classic match. Ibushi matches will always contain good drama, a lot of stiff shots, and at least 5 displays of jaw-dropping athleticism and agility.
Runners-up: Ricochet, Adrian Neville, Rich Swann, AR Fox
Best Power Wrestler: Michael Elgin
Power wrestling has evolved a ton over the last few decades. In today's wrestling world where steroids are frowned upon instead of encouraged, it is harder than ever to find true men of might. Since there is and will always be a need for power wrestlers, we have seen a rash of powerlifters such as Big E and Rusev come onto the scene. Michael Elgin is built in that same mold. He isn't very tall and he doesn't have veins popping out all over his body, but he is strong as an ox and has the athleticism to survive for long periods of time in the wrestling ring. He has a great array of power moves and has worked his way into becoming one of the world's elite in-ring talents, regardless of size or style. His Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Championship victory over Adam Cole was a MOTY candidate and a showcase of how far Elgin has come and how far he can continue to rise.
Best Babyface: Daniel Bryan
Bryan has done nearly the impossible in today's WWE, and that is to become nearly 100% appreciated by the WWE audience. Whether it his catchphrase, his humble attitude, or his fantastic ring work, Bryan has become the perfect face for 2014's wrestling environment. Even though he is currently injured, Bryan figures to be in the company's plans for the rest of the year, and if his pop at Money in the Bank is any indicator, his popularity shall hold.
Runners-up: Kevin Steen, Hiroshi Tanahashi, KENTA, Icarus
Best Heel: Triple H
Not a great year for heels so far. Stalwarts like Bully Ray, Bobby Roode and Prince Devitt have either turned face or left their major company. Heels that received big pushes like Randy Orton and Adam Cole have occasionally buckled under the weight of expectations. However, Triple H has been the anti-Daniel Bryan, and that has been just as impressive. In today's wrestling world, fans have become so accustomed to good heel work that if a bad guy is doing his job well enough that fans will eventually just cheer for him, no matter how dastardly his actions. Triple H, has managed to create a character that literally nobody is rooting for. His feud against The Shield is a perfect example of such a thing. Despite the fact that he revived Evolution, a stable that most fans remember fondly, nobody was cheering for them during their matches against The Shield, and that takes a lot of talent and a lot of effort.
Runners-up: Randy Orton, Minoru Suzuki, Adam Cole, Bray Wyatt
Most Charismatic: Shinsuke Nakamura
If I were to recommend to a non-puro watching friend which wrestler to watch in order to appreciate puroresu, it would be Nakamura. Nakamura really breathes charisma, and his matches, no matter how dull they may appear on paper, are always interesting just because he does such a good job of working the crowd during them. He has had a great series of matches against Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kevin Steen and Minoru Suzuki and is always around the top of the NJPW card.
Runners-up: Daniel Bryan, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kevin Steen, Bray Wyatt
Best on Interviews: Bray Wyatt
Wyatt's character is 90% based on his mic skills, and because of that, it is no small wonder he has succeed to the degree that he has. Wyatt is the perfect example of a guy getting a gimmick and totally immersing himself in it, creating one divine character. Wyatt took a gimmick based on Robert De Niro's character in the film "Cape Fear" and has hit a complete homerun with it. His booking has been shaky as of late, but that hasn't changed the fact that whenever he has a mic in his hands, it is must see TV.
Runners-up: Kevin Steen, Eddie Kingston, Dean Ambrose
Event of the Year: Ring of Honor "Best in the World"
ROH needed to find success for their first ever PPV, and they did quite well with their annual Best in the World Event. The show had two MOTY candidates, with Michael Elgin vs Adam Cole as the main event and Roderick Strong vs Cedric Alexander stole the undercard. Michael Bennett and Matt Hardy vs The Briscoes and Kevin Steen vs Silas Young were also very good, and the card was rounded out by more solid undercard matches. Moving forward, ROH can hopefully build on their smashing success, as there are not a lot of better ways to spend $24.99.
Runners-up: WWE-Wrestlemania 30, NJPW-Dominion, NJPW-Dontaku, EVOLVE 29. ROH/NJPW-War of the Worlds, NJPW-New Beginning in Osaka
Match of the Year: reDRagon vs The Young Bucks- ROH/NJPW's "War of the Worlds"
The only match so far to garner a perfect 5 star rating from me, this match for the ROH World Tag Team Championship was a perfect display of the supreme talent that each team possess. It highlighting the awesome technical skill of Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly, while also displaying the tremendous high-flying ability and team work of the Young Bucks. The last five minutes of the match are truly outrageous, with something jaw-droppingly awesome happening literally every 10 seconds. It's the perfect match to showcase what independent wrestling is all about.
Runners-up: Eddie Kingston vs Icarus-Chikara's "You Only Live Twice", Michael Elgin vs Adam Cole- ROH's "Best in the World, Kota Ibushi vs Ricochet- NJPW's "Dominion", Dolph Ziggler vs Jack Swagger vs Kofi Kingston vs Dean Ambrose vs Seth Rollins vs Rob Van Dam- WWE's Money in the Bank.