WrestleGrade Yearly Awards 2018

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This year has been incredible for Professional Wrestling, from all over the world wrestling has been in peak form. Here are my picks for the Top Ten Best Wrestlers of the Year, Top Ten Best Matches of the Year, Top Five Best Tag Teams of The Year, Top 5 Women’s Wrestlers of the Year,  Best Promotion of The Year, Best Wrestling Show of The Year, Best Feud of the Year, and what wrestler to look out for in 2019.

Top 5 Best Tag Teams of 2018:

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5. Aussie Open, The current Progress Tag Team Champions had an amazing year this year for the UK independent scene. Mark Davis is a big powerful dude filled with agility and having had battles with Walter for the Atlas Title, Kyle Fletcher is a great high-flyer and the mixing of these guys styles makes for often incredible matches. While their solo stuff might be some of their best work this year when they team together they’ve had great matches with the likes of Timothy Thatcher and Chris Brookes. They also shined big time in the Progress Tag Team Gauntlet match picking up the victory with a great performance. The future is only looking bright for Aussie Open. 

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4. So Cal Uncensored, the ROH Natives got over this year in a big way. At All In, in September these guys were one of the hottest acts in the business. The bold characters in SCU have also had some great matches this year including a banger at Final Battle with Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky battling the Briscoes and The Young Bucks. There is a great mix of comedy wrestling and in-ring skill when these guys are on however now that they have left ROH you have to wonder where they go from here. 

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3. The Rascalz, while these guys didn’t strike the mainstream until very late in the year when they debuted in Impact, they were absolutely tearing it up in PWG. These guys have had absolute tag team lucha classics with Flamita and Bandido and Pentagon Jr and Fenix. Zachary Wentz and Desmond Xavier are also some of the best high-flyers I’ve ever seen as what they can do in that ring is unique and incredible. Their finisher is Wentz jumping up in the air for a moonsault as Xavier pushes him in mid-air on top of the opponent and it’s incredible. These guys will only continue to strike gold as they make it further in mainstream professional wrestling. 

9602. Undisputed Era, Undisputed ERA made this year so enjoyable in tag team wrestling. The absolutely amazing heel antics and the great tag team work have mixed to deliver some legitimate MOTY contenders. The War Games match was incredible, The series of matches against Mustache Mountain has been incredible, and I don’t think they are anywhere close to stopping. Adam Cole as the frontman has been amazing as he is the perfect mouthpiece for a tag team like this, Kyle O’Reilly is one of the best in-ring talents in the world, and Roderick Strong made a shock move in joining Undisputed ERA and turning heel earlier this year. NXT has been an incredible place for Professional Wrestling and much of the greatness has come from the ERA. 

Being-The-ELite1. The Young Bucks/The Elite, the Bullet Club has absolutely dominated 2018. They have been everywhere popping up into the mainstream frequently, promoting their own event, and having incredible matches along the way. Specifically, the Young Bucks stand out, their matches against the Golden Lovers and The Briscoe/SCU Ladder Match and countless others have made their wrestling stand out leagues above everything else this year. They have become captivating characters that glue your eyes to the screen whenever they come on. This won’t be the only time I talk about The Elite on this list though. 

Promotion of the Year:

Logo_NewJapan_dnNew Japan Pro Wrestling has revolutionized Wrestling this year like no other company has before. The incredible matches stand out a cut above everything any other company put out this year and their expansion into the American Market has been successful. NJPW has skyrocketed themselves into the mainstream with wrestlers like Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Will Ospreay leading the ship. However, NJPW is beginning to have internal conflicts with management and foreigners taking over the spotlight of Japanese Natives but the company still looks to be holding onto greatness heading into Wrestlekingdom 13. 

Best Wrestling Show of the Year:

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NJPW Dominion, This show was stacked, like enormously. The top 3 matches on this show would’ve been MOTY contenders in their own rights. The 1-2-3 punch of Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay, Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada ended this show historically. While the undercard also shined as this show had a very good layout the main event stole the show like nothing else. The 70 minutes closer of Okada vs. Omega 4 is one of the greatest matches of all time and boosted this show into the #1 spot of show of the year, in a year that had many amazing NXT Takeovers and All In to be competitors. 

Feud of the Year:

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Tomasso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano: The routine tag team breakup feud was done to perfection in NXT this year. Johnny and Ciampa had the perfect dastardly heel and underdog babyface dynamic with the crowd organically cheering for Gargano. Ciampa was one of the best heels in the business to the point where the boos he was getting were so powerful that he had no entrance music. The writing was incredible as well stretching this feud over a year-long and adding different elements to the story over that long period of time. The matches that came out of this feud is the best series of matches since Okada vs. Omega and maybe in WWE history. This feud was the main reason why NXT was preferred over the main roster this year. 

Top 5 Women’s Wrestlers of the Year:

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5. Kairi Sane, Last year’s Mae Young Classic Winner had an amazing year for validating herself in the Women’s Division this year. Winning the NXT Title was huge but what meant even more for her career was the amazing matches she had with Shayna Baszler which are some of the best Women’s Matches of the year. It had taken me a while to buy into the hype around Kairi Sane but she destroyed in NXT this year and made me a believer. 

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4. Ronda Rousey, when she broke onto the scene for the first time in the WWE my initial thoughts were great a female Brock Lesnar is exactly what we need. As much of the critics like myself were shocked this year to see how fast Ronda Rousey became one of the best Women’s Wrestlers in the world. She took over in her debut having an amazing match against HHH and Stephanie Mcmahon with Kurt Angle that surprisingly stole the show. From her debut, she’s had great matches with the likes of Charlotte and Nia Jax. The future looks bright for Rousey if this is the accolades she has in her first year. Going into Wrestlemania, her Main Eventing will be amazing.

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3. Charlotte:  In my opinion, the greatest Women’s Wrestler of all time. While this year she took a back seat to 2 other wrestler’s she still had an overall amazing year. She has had probably the highest number great matches of any other wrestler in WWE this year having classics against Becky Lynch at Evolution, Becky Lynch and Asuka at TLC, and Ronda Rousey a Survivor Series but other than match quality Charlotte has revived Women’s Wrestling in WWE to a point that it has never been before. The Women’s Division is the best thing in WWE currently and that’s due to the work that Flair has put in. 

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2. Asuka: The whole year wasn’t flattering to Asuka losing to Charlotte at Wrestlemania began a downward spiral that she only just recovered from in time to win the Smackdown Women’s Title at TLC in one of the best Women’s Matches I’ve seen. While, the year wasn’t all Asuka’s best work her highs are some of the highest achievements a Woman has ever reached in WWE. She made history winning the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble and had that amazing TLC match we’ve already talked about a lot. She also played a big role in the revival of the Women’s Division, going into Wrestlemania most likely with the Smackdown Women’s Title it will be interesting to see what match she gets and how she makes the most of it. 

gqz8wr6f0cpzglmgkptz1. Becky Lynch: You probably saw this one coming, the biggest star in WWE for the first time in history is a woman. Her character work is the best of any woman probably in wrestling history. WWE saw how fans reacted to her as a babyface and allowed her to take the ball and run her heel character into superstardom. While her achievements aren’t as spectacular as Asuka or Charlotte’s she has trailblazed like no woman before her has. Her achievements include the TLC match, the Smackdown Women’s Title, a great performance in the Women’s MITB, and the Last Woman Standing Match against Charlotte at Evolution. I’m VERY excited to see where Becky Lynch goes from here. 

Who to Look Out for in 2019:

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Bandido: This is most definitely not the last time you will hear this name not only on this list but future lists to come. Bandido is an incredible talent mixing high flying like you’ve never seen and adding the drama that many luchadores lack. He had an amazing 2018 but is still relatively underground as his biggest exposure was the main event of All In and he’s mostly been a PWG mainstay. Bandido recently signed a Full-Time deal with ROH which will boost him into the spotlight as I expect him to be one of the best luchadores of all time by the time he’s done but he’s just getting started.

Top Ten Matches of 2018:

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10. Johnny Gargano vs. Tomasso Ciampa at NXT Takeover New Orleans, It might be an unpopular opinion to put this match this low on the list but I believe the NXT Takeover Chicago rematch topped this one. This match had an amazing story using the crutch as a weapon to represent the injuries both men have struggled through and it kicked off the 3 match trilogy from Ciampa and Gargano, this was also Ciampa’s return match which makes it even that more surprising that this is an incredible match. The layout on this match was incredible and it main evented one of the best wrestling shows of the year so it was even more memorable. 

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9. Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurrl IWGP Jr Heavyweight Title NJPW Sakura Genesis, any other year this would’ve had no problem whatsoever being the match of the year. These guys have had matches for many different promotions and most of them have been absolute bangers but this takes the cake. It started off fast but nobody would expect Will Ospreay to crush his neck on the apron trying to Spanish Fly Scurrl. Any other wrestler after taking a bump like that would quit and end the match soon but instead the absolute mad lad that Ospreay takes the match to the next level going absolutely insane to retain his title delivering one of the most impressive performances of the year. Marty Scurrl played an amazing heel taking advantage of the neck and trying to stomp it off but Ospreay gets the victory after one of the best IWGP Title matches ever. 

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8. Walter vs. Zack Sabre Jr Progress World Championship Chapter 77: This was a fight and one of the best of the year. Wrestling is often about suspension of disbelief but I had to convince myself that this match was fake. These guys clobbered the shit out of each other with insane strikes and had some amazing submission work. Walter plays an amazing Andre the Giant style unbeatable heel every time he wrestles and that dominance was turned up to 11 in this match. ZSJ rarely plays an underdog but you can see that he was desperate to escape the match with the Progress Title and gave everything he could to win the match. This is my favorite technical match maybe ever.

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7. Jimmy Havoc vs Will Ospreay 2 out of 3 Falls No DQ Match Progress Chapter 75: This was utter chaos and my first big Progress match. The energy in this match was incredible with the crowd being into every second of this 30-minute long saga. This also included a heel Will Ospreay which is undoubtedly the best Will Ospreay and a vengeful Jimmy Havoc which delivered a HARDCORE performance. This was the most brutal match I’ve seen this year as these guys did some insane spots including a Spanish Fly off a balcony by Ospreay onto a table that didn’t break. This match isn’t for the faint-hearted but it was an amazingly entertaining car crash. 

43164558_1153427018130199_1241942089160196096_o-16. Tyler Bate vs. Walter Progress World Championship Chapter 80: At Progress’s biggest ever show in Wembley arena these 2 main evented and it was hard to expect anything other than greatness. This is a modern day Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan but with actual amazing in-ring work and great spots. Tyler Bate played an amazing underdog babyface getting huge crowd reactions when it looked like he was gonna win the match. This was a spectacle and the best ever Progress match and again in any other year would not have an issue being match of the year.

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5. Johnny Gargano vs. Aleister Black NXT Takeover War Games, Another unpopular opinion in having this match this high but I believe this match is severely slept on and one of the best NXT matches of the year while not quite the best. The dynamic was so amazing in the newly heel Johnny Gargano being incredibly fresh and the vengeful Aleister Black being one of the most determined performances of the year. These guys put on an amazing in-ring clinic that mixed in the amazing story to perfection. This match also included one of my favorite spots of the year with Johnny Gargano’s suicide dive being caught by a huge jumping knee by Black. Incredible work by two guys who had an amazing year. 

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4. Shingo Takagi vs. Bandido vs. Jeff Cobb PWG BOLA 2018 Final: Nothing against Shingo Takagi but as soon as he was eliminated from this match it became a MOTY contender. BOLA is a long weekend full of insane matches so it’s easy for the crowd and especially the wrestlers to become sluggish and that happened for about the first 5 minutes of this match but what happened for the rest of the match was something special. The crowd was entirely behind Bandido getting louder and louder making one of the best environments of the year. After every near fall and big spot, the crowd became unglued and it is one of the most exciting things I have ever seen. Jeff Cobb and Bandido put on a great match in its own right but in front of every other crowd, this wouldn’t be on this list. This match was an incredibly exciting, nerve-wracking, and emotional event that I felt I was a part of while I was sitting at home. Wrestling often lacks emotional investment but only one other match made me feel that way. 

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3. Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Almas NXT Championship Takeover Philadelphia: No one really expected this one to be as good as it was. Up until this point, NXT was already better than the main roster but it was still dwarfed in quality compared to NJPW and ROH but this match broke that barrier. NXT was missing that coveted 5-star match and this delivered that. It was 2 of the best in-ring talents in the world doing what they do best. The spots were incredible and this match was wrestled at a pace like I have never seen before. It also had some great manager spots with Zelina Vega and Candice LeRae going at each other. The drama was turned extra high and this match is historically important as it was WWE’s first 5-star match in 7 years. This was a flawless match and really should be MOTY in any other year. 

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2. Tomasso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano NXT Takeover Chicago Street Fight: Another possibly unpopular opinion but I believe this is the greatest WWE match of all time. It was so iconic and had some insane spots, like the exposed ring DDT and the Air Raid Crash off the rafters through a table below. It was chock full of amazing moments and the feud was hotter than it was at Takeover NOLA with Johnny Gargano becoming so desperate to win that he cost himself the match. Tomasso Ciampa was also an incredibly dastardly heel putting Johnny Gargano through hell for the fun of it. One of the best matches of all time is only number 2 on this list though which really should show you how incredible wrestling was this year. 

kazuchika-okada-vs-kenny-omega-njpw-dominion-750x4221. Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Title 2 Out of 3 Falls Match: Yeah you probably guessed it. There’s not much I can tell you about this match that hasn’t already been said. It was an absolute saga reaching 70 minutes but not once slowing down, which is incredible. The story was insane too as Kenny Omega had gone from hell and back to try and win the IWGP Heavyweight Title. I haven’t ever been this invested in wrestling, I sat biting my nails for 70 minutes waiting to see if Kenny could end Okada’s amazing championship reign. This match’s spots were top notch too as you would expect from Okada and Omega but the wrestling logic was what really stole the show. For all 70 minutes of the match, something smart was happening as everything legitimately felt like these guys were going through a life-changing experience. It will take a lot to convince me that this isn’t the greatest wrestling match of all time. 

Top Ten Wrestlers of the Year:

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10. Bandido: And we’re back with this guy. Nobody else in the business currently is as impressive as him and he wasn’t shy to show it this year having the MOTY contender against Cobb and Takagi that we’ve already talked about and main eventing All In. The dude also had 2 5-star matches in a single night with the triple threat and an amazing match against Joey Janela. Bandido is an incredible talent that ROH is so lucky to have signed, the future is so scarily bright for this guy and he showed it at every chance he could this year. 

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9. Hiroshi Tanahashi, The Ace of NJPW is one of the best Japanese Natives currently in New Japan and is currently one of the brightest stars there. While the Japanese guys are being taken over by new management and guys like the Elite are being pushed into the mainstream, Hiroshi is keeping his spot strong. This year he had 2 incredible matches against Kazuchika Okada and won the G1 Climax which is one of the biggest accolades in modern wrestling, going into the Kenny Omega main event of Wrestlekingdom 13 I’m excited to see how 2019 treats the John Cena of Japanese Wrestling. 

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8. Tomasso Ciampa, the best heel performance in modern wrestling was turned in this year by Tomasso Ciampa. I’ve probably already talked your ears off about how amazing he was and how amazing his matches with Johnny Gargano were. Not only did he have that amazing sequence of matches he went on to win the NXT Title and have another MOTY Contender match against Velveteen Dream. Tomasso Ciampa is another guy that the future is really bright for as it is hard to forget with the amazing performance he put in that he is still in the so-called “developmental” of WWE. 

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7. Will Ospreay, Ospreay showed this year that he is just so much more than a guy who can do flips. Ospreay has had so many amazing matches this year including the ones against Havoc and Scurrl that we’ve already talked about but also matches against guys like Jay Lethal, Walter, and Hiromu Takahashi come to mind. He has spent most of 2018 being a heel in the UK and a face in Japan showing how versatile he can really be. He is also shifting to becoming a heavyweight in NJPW and going into a match with Kota Ibushi for the Never Openweight Championship the sky is the limit. Ospreay also put his career on the line more times this year than Mick Foley did in his prime so for that Will I’m thankful. Thank U, Next.

b0d98-15421741186422-8006. Kota Ibushi, It took a while for Ibushi to focus on serious wrestling and he finally did this year and took the world by storm. He started the year right with a great match at Wrestlekingdom 12 against Honorable Mention Cody Rhodes and from there reunited Golden Lovers with Kenny Omega which is one of the biggest moments in wrestling this year. Ibushi has had so many amazing matches that it’s hard to keep track of but matches against the likes of Omega, Ishii, and The Young Bucks stand out. Ibushi ends the year with the Never Openweight Title and next year could be the defining year for Kota Ibushi. 

94ee6-1522863097-8005. Zack Sabre Jr, Maybe the greatest technical wrestler of all time had a stand out year in 2018. Having 5-star matches against Walter, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kazuchika Okada and winning the New Japan Cup defeating New Japan legends in one of the best tournament runs I’ve ever seen. ZSJ has been around the world this year winning championships and wrestling in every single major indy promotion from PWG to Progress to NJPW to ROH he did it all this year and kept it fresh and unique all along the ride. 

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4. Kazuchika Okada, Okada started the year in one of the greatest title reigns of all time and had amazing defenses against Tetsuya Naito at Wrestlekingdom, Zack Sabre Jr at Sakura Genesis, and Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestling Dontaku but the cream of the crop for Okada this year was the greatest professional wrestling match of all time against Kenny Omega. However, since he started the year off hot after the title loss to Omega he began to broke down and had a couple good matches in the G1 and an amazing match against Marty Scurrl at All In but he slowed down and fell from relevancy a little bit. Going into 2019, I hope to see Okada regain momentum and be back on top. 

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3. Walter, The Undisputed King of the Indies this year with his championship reigns in PWG and Progress being incredible and him taking up 2 of the Top 10 match of the year spots makes it easy to see why he is so captivating. Walter is an absolute beast of a man and all of his matches make it seem like he brings his opponent to the brink of death but they always seem to fight back and have extremely captivating matches. Along with his MOTY contenders against Tyler Bate and ZSJ, he has had amazing matches against Timothy Thatcher, Ilja Dragunov, and Shingo Takagi. Still having the Progress Title going into WWE with a deal with NXT UK it will be interesting to see how 2019 plays out for the big man from Austria. 

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2. Kenny Omega, Omega was penciled in for the top spot on this list until he ended the year the way he did. He has a very similar story to Okada building his heat early in the year and being one of the greatest acts in wrestling history. Defining himself with instant classics against The Young Bucks with Kota Ibushi, the famed Okada match, and the solo G1 Climax match against Kota Ibushi. He also had one of the feuds of the year contenders against Cody Rhodes that involved 2 very good matches. Omega started the year with so much momentum he could be called the Greatest of All Time but looking back on the first half at the end of 2018 you wonder where all the momentum has gone. Sure, he’s still IWGP Champ but he hasn’t done much with the title which is in sharp contrast to the last champion Kazuchika Okada who was the greatest ever IWGP Heavyweight Champion. 2019 will be incredibly interesting for Omega, he has a match in 4 days against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestlekingdom but after that where does he go. Is it WWE time for the face of the alternative? Will he show up in the new All Elite Wrestling Full-Time? Will he stay the Golden Boy of New Japan?

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1. Johnny Gargano, the best babyface in the modern era Johnny Gargano took over wrestling like no one has before. In a place like WWE, Johnny Gargano shined head and shoulders above everybody else this year. Johnny Gargano takes out 40% of the Top Ten Matches of the Year which is an incredible feat and is all around one of the best modern in-ring wrestlers. I have nothing but good to say about Johnny Gargano which is why he just inches by Kenny Omega for wrestler of the year. Going into 2019, he has reformed a heel DIY and is one of the most captivating characters as a tweener going right now. 2019 will be another amazing year for Gargano and the future is bright on the main roster for this guy. 

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