The World Wrestling Entertainment had an eventful 2015. The WWE saw new world champions crowned, a historic rivalry culminated and the banishment of the biggest icon in pro wrestling history. Rather than look back myself at the WWE 2015 in review, I am joined by a collection of pro wrestling writers from CamelClutchBlog.com.
WWE Wrestler of the Year
Eric Gargiulo – Seth Rollins. I have to admit that when I originally sat down to write this blog I nominated Brock Lesnar. However, I received an early draft of George Carlo’s blog on Seth as Wrestler of the Year and it changed my mind. It is hard to deny the year Seth had in and out of the ring. I don’t know if anyone has had a year as historic as Seth in winning two titles, two consecutively, and cashing in Money in the Bank at WrestleMania. In addition to the titles, he was solid in the ring, arguably at his peak before he tore up his knee. Seth took a big leap forward and is set for big things in 2016 coming off one of the strongest years one WWE superstar has had in over a decade.
Dustin Nichols – Seth Rollins. Honestly, 2015 was a bad year for the company all around, and it’s hard to pick a WOTY just because there was such little to choose from. However, I’m going the safe route and saying Seth Rollins. Despite being possibly the worst-booked champion since Rey Mysterio, Rollins was a consistent performer all year before he went down with a knee injury, sometimes performing at top-level two or three times a night. When you add into the fact that he won both the WWE World and US titles during the year, not to mention held them at the same time, and as a result became a member of the “Triple Crown Club”, it’s hard to argue against him for this award.
Nic Negrepontis – Seth Rollins. The wrestler of the year has to be Seth Rollins. He has carried Raw all year and gave us one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time. No one’s come close to his level of success this year and his accolades in 2015 speak for themselves. He will be back and he’ll be bigger than ever.
WrestleChat.net – Seth Rollins . A historical WWE Championship run that ended only due to injury was the least of Rollins’ accomplishments in 2015. Talk about a work horse – this is a guy who was working seemingly every RAW, Smackdown, and PPV, while also headlining live events every single week. Many complained that Rollins was becoming over-saturated due to the WWE’s widespread use of him, but the fact of the matter is that Rollins was leaned on so heavily in the last year simply because he was head-and-shoulders above even the next best performer on the roster. I can’t even recall Rollins having an off-night in the last year. I fully expect Rollins to pick up where he left off when he returns as a massive babyface in the summer of 2016. Honorable Mention: Roman Reigns, John Cena, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Sasha Banks, Bayley
Jeff Peck – Seth Rollins. Despite the injury ending his year short Rollins was the best wrestler on the WWE roster (again) in 2015. He shocked the wrestling world by “cashing in” at WrestleMania 31 and delivering night after night whether it be a RAW, SmackDown or PPV match. In my opinion Seth Rollins is the current holder of the “Best in the World” title and deserves to be wrestler of the year.
Steve Grossi – Seth Rollins. Seth Rollins is my WWE Wrestler of the Year. He was absolutely on fire on the road to WrestleMania and was without question the top heel in WWE. He was the highlight of one of the best matches of the year with his performance at the Royal Rumble against Brock Lesnar and John Cena. The most spectacular moment of the year was his cash in of his Money in the Bank contract at WrestleMania. As champion he carried the company for months practically by himself. He successfully defended his title against Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, Cena and Sting. He was WWE World Heavyweight Championship and United States Champion at the same time. He’s the best worker in all of professional wrestling and made everyone he was in the ring with better. I’m convinced that Rollins can’t have a bad match. An injury cut his year short but only highlighted how valuable he was to the WWE. No question, Seth Rollins is the WWE Wrestler of the Year for 2015.
Paul Laska – Seth Rollins. Despite being booked badly early in his title reign, Rollins finally was able to break out of his Authority lackey position and into his character with great results. He’s a big piece of the WWE’s future. He would’ve easily headlined 2016’s Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania 32. 2016 will be an interesting and critical year for Rollins to see how fast and well his recovery will be and his eventual return to the top of the WWE roster.
Michelle Shelton – Seth Rollins. Seth Rollins started off hot in 2015, with an incredible triple threat match at the Royal Rumble against John Cena and Brock Lesnar. He went on to make history in March by cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase during the main event of WrestleMania 31 and winning the World Heavyweight Championship. I can’t remember watching a bad Seth Rollins match in all of 2015; he developed a unique and captivating in-ring style and was the most entertaining performer to watch. Aside from his achievements inside of the ring, Rollins further developed his heel persona and quickly became the most hated superstar on the WWE roster. His title reign was a bit disappointing due to questionable booking (at times), but Rollins undoubtedly was the most valuable performer in all of professional wrestling this year. That became blatantly obvious when he injured his knee in November and was forced to vacate the title; WWE struggled for weeks to get the main event scene in order without Rollins’ presence.
Scott Wallask – Seth Rollins. In the ring, he proved he is probably the best wrestler in the world right now. He reminds me of Shawn Michaels back during Michaels’ first run as champion, when you got excited just to see him perform. The way Rollins was booked sucked, but that’s not his fault. I also think Rollins handled with class and restraint the Twitter mishap with the nude photos, which to me just reinforced that the guy is a pro.
Sarah Hirsch – Roman Reigns. If there was a most improved nod, this is it. I say this because in the face of adversity he’s really stepped up his game this year. Reigns can’t help the way booking is, but he can help becoming a better performer and he’s done just that. I definitely think he lets his work talk for him, and it should. He’s had fantastic matches with Daniel Bryan (Fast Lane), Big Show (Extreme Rules), Bray Wyatt (Hell in a Cell) to name a few. I can appreciate a wrestler who is consistently getting better in the ring. Is he perfect? No. But the fact he’s putting in the hard work and effort gets the nod from me.
Andrew Ortman – John Cena. I was tempted to easily pick Cesaro, Seth Rollins or even Kevin Owens. They have all three had great years with incredible matches, but there is one thing the three of them and their best matches of the year have in common; John Cena. It is not often you see a wrestler of Cena’s age and tenure have their best year this late in their career, but Cena did. His trio of matches with Kevin Owens were some of the best of the year (as you will see in the next category) and his title matches with Seth Rollins were exactly how exciting title matches should be. Then there is the John Cena United States Open Challenge. This open challenge not only boosted the United States Title to a status it had not seen in years but also gave people a reason to tune into RAW weekly again. These matches also provided an amazing platform to superstars such as Cesaro, Neville, Dean Ambrose and Sami Zayn to showcase their work at its absolute finest. The quality of wrestling that Cena gave this year is top notch and some of the best he has even put forward. Some may argue the point of Cena being chosen Wrestler of the Year over the amazing talents WWE had this year, but if we are looking at great, exciting, edge of your seat wrestling action that we all love, no one has John Cena beat this year.
Chris Slater – John Cena. It has to be John Cena. Until his outside commitments took him off of WWE television, Cena was featured prominently all year. He challenged for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the Royal Rumble and SummerSlam, he won the United States Championship twice, and he energized #RAW programming each week with his “US Open Invitational.” Cena did for the US Championshp what the company and others have tried and failed to do several times: brought legitimacy to a secondary title and made it important.
Justin Ballard – Seth Rollins. While Rollins wasn’t able to finish out the year, he had one of the best ten-month runs of anyone in recent memory, delivering multiple show-stealing matches with a wide variety of opponents (including the 56-year-old Sting), and making history by being the first guy to cash in Money in the Bank mid-match. On a WrestleMania card that looked very underwhelming on paper, WWE needed something big to shake things up, and Rollins provided that moment, pulling off what Michael Cole described as “The Heist of the Century.” Rollins has evolved into a true company MVP, and while the ratings haven’t caught up yet, we’re unquestionably looking at one of WWE’s future cornerstones.
Eric Darsie – Roman Reigns. Entering 2015, I was like many of other wrestling fans – I wasn’t on the Roman Reigns bandwagon. I didn’t feel like he was connecting to the crowd like a main eventer should, either as a villain or as a hero. With his performances between his WrestleMania match to his Hell in a Cell match, with his improvement on the microphone, Roman Reigns proved to me to be the wrestler of the year. With the 5 minute and 15 second WWE title reign at Survivor Series 2015, Roman Reigns will only go upwards and onwards from 2016.
WWE Match of the Year
Eric Gargiulo – The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar SummerSlam 2015. Another tough one to choose. I could have easily went with the Three-Way from the Royal Rumble or the Taker-Brock Hell in a Cell but there was something special about this match that the others missed. The match easily surpassed their previous encounter at WrestleMania 30 and the atmosphere in the building made it historic. It was truly a classic. The finish was Brock’s first loss since Mania 29. This was WWE drama at its finest.
Dustin Nichols – – Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (Royal Rumble). I think I can count how many episodes of RAW I watched over the year on one hand. I can count how many PPVs I watched on one finger. I did watch every Smackdown, but there wasn’t anything on there that really blew my mind. I’ve gotta pick something, though, so I’m going with Cena vs. Rollins vs. Lesnar from the Royal Rumble. Rollins really stepped up his game in that match and proved he belonged in the main event scene. Plus, Lesnar broke his ribs mid-match and still managed to finish the match, with the planned finish no less. Even Cena, who is normally very boring and predictable, stepped up his game and helped to make it a match that had everyone in the crowd hanging on until the very end.
Nic Negrepontis – Sasha Banks versus Bayley NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. This is a really tough one, but I’m going to go with Bayley versus Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. There were so many good matches this year, but none of them produced as much genuine emotion as that first encounter between these two girls. The electricity, the crowd, the perfect execution of the match, the curtain call – it was something truly special.
WrestleChat.net – Sasha Banks vs Bayley Ironman Match at NXT Takeover: Respect. This was absolutely the most difficult category to choose. There were so many incredible matches this year to choose from, but I’m going with the match that I think wrestling fans will still be talking about five or ten years from now. Sasha Banks vs Bayley’s Ironman Match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was arguably the most thrilling, exhilarating match in all of pro wrestling, better yet just the WWE. Thanks to NXT, wrestling fans have been treated to some superb women’s wrestling in the last year or two, but Banks & Bayley’s fascinating back-and-forth matchup on the biggest stage yet for the “developmental” promotion will be seen as a trailblazer for many years to come. Many will argue that the feud between Charlotte and Sasha Banks put women’s wrestling on the map and that may be right. If that’s the case, however, it was the Ironman Match between Sasha Banks and Bayley that raised the bar for generations and emphatically stated that the sky’s the limit for the future of women’s wrestling in the WWE. Honorable Mention: Brock Lesnar vs John Cena vs Seth Rollins at Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan at Fastlane, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 31, John Cena vs Kevin Owens at Elimination Chamber, John Cena vs Seth Rollins at SummerSlam, Roman Reigns vs Cesaro at RAW 11/16/2015.
Jeff Peck – Sasha Banks vs. Bayley (NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn – August 22nd, 2015). There was no other match in 2015 that had the amount of emotion this one had. To me, it was the greatest WWE Women’s wrestling match, if not the greatest women’s wrestling match ever based on the storyline, the backstory of each female wrestler’s drive to become a WWE star and the raw impact it had on the future of women’s wrestling not only in the WWE but across the world as well. It’s become by far one of my favorite matches in recent memory and I hope we see these two go at it on the main roster in 2016.
Steve Grossi – Sasha Banks vs Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. Sasha Banks vs Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn is my match of 2015. Not only was it the best women’s match I have ever seen, it was one of the best matches period. The spots these women hit were unbelievable. The story they told in the ring was amazing. Everything about this match was spectacular. Bayley and Sasha proved they are the best women wrestlers in the world with the work they did in front of the 15,000+ in Brooklyn.
Paul Laska – Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins Royal Rumble 2015. Everything you wanted in a match was here. Three wrestlers with different styles in different stages of their respective careers. I’m not a huge fan of triple threat tile matches but this one had lots of moves and action from the triumvirate. Lesnar was dominating and intimidating. Cena held his own while Rollins broke out his A-game to show he’s a pay per view main eventer.
Michelle Shelton – Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins Royal Rumble 2015. While most people remember 2015’s Royal Rumble for the Roman Reigns debacle, I remember being completely blown away by the World Heavyweight Championship triple threat match. The storyline leading into it was fantastic; Lesnar annihilated Cena at SummerSlam 2014, Seth Rollins got involved in their rematch at Night of Champions, and The Authority ultimately added Rollins to the rubber match. John Cena was out for revenge against Lesnar, Seth Rollins was looking to cement his status as WWE’s top star, and Brock Lesnar was just there to kick ass. The dynamic between the 3 performers was magical. The match itself captured that magic and each performer was able to showcase their skills perfectly. It was hard-hitting, high-flying, brutal, and creative. In the end, Lesnar pinned Rollins to retain his title, but Cena was able to prove that he was more than just his “five moves of doom”, and Rollins proved that he belonged in the main event scene moving forward.
Scott Wallask – Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. The build was awesome, it had huge heat with the live crowd, and it was an unpredictable ending that got people talking. It was in many ways the prototype WWE big rematch that I’m glad we got, because I lived through the years where we never saw Hogan vs. Warrior II at WrestleMania, for example.
Sarah Hirsch – Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (NXT Takeover: Brooklyn). This is by far, hands down the best women’s wrestling match the WWE has produced. This feud and match was built up so well that you didn’t even think about the politics of Banks being on Raw (knowing she’d eventually lose the championship to stay there full time). Both women told a great story, with Bayley being the underdog and stepping up tremendously through the year to this point. It was like a movie watching Bayley overcome the odds between falling short and suffering through a wrist injury, to have her happy ending. I don’t very often get emotional during matches, but this one left me in tears. Banks and Bayley gave their all in this match and it signified that a change has come, plus the end of the Four Horsewomen era in NXT. Current NXT Divas have big shoes to fill.
Andrew Ortman – John Cena v. Kevin Owens at Elimination Chamber. From the moment Kevin Owens surprised the RAW crowded on May 18th until his decisive victory over Cena at the Elimination Chamber network special, I was hooked. Not only was it intriguing to see Owens show up and confront Cena the way he did, but the match itself was unbelievable. After the shocking three count at the end, I remember thinking of key things which constitutes a match of the year; 1. I’ve not seen a match this good and exciting in a long time and 2. Something amazing would need to happen to top this match the remainder of the year. The simplistic storyline between Owens and Cena was perfect and the in-ring action was a top notch as it gets. They walked out that night as Owens, the unstoppable new force and Cena, the battered veteran who will surely seek his revenge soon. Another key to an epic battle…always leave them wanting more.
Chris Slater – John Cena vs Kevin Owens, Elimination Chamber.For a brief moment before the dreaded 50-50 booking took the luster away, this match ushered in the new era of WWE superstars. Kevin Owens, then the NXT Champion, stood toe-to-toe with the face of the WWE. Not only was Owens undaunted, but he actually picked up the win. The hot, new wrestler was on the upswing and the John Wayne of WWE, to steal an analogy from Jim Ross, was on his way out of the limelight. It ultimately didn’t happen that way, but this match showed that WWE definitely knows how to book a new talent to make an impact and that they will occasionally do so.
Justin Ballard – Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (Royal Rumble). The one bright spot on an otherwise horrid Rumble card, this Triple Threat absolutely tore the house down with nearly non-stop action, dramatic near-falls, and crazy highspots. Lesnar dominated both challengers early on, but after being put through a table by Rollins his WWE Title run seemed doomed on several occasions. Seth proceeded to announce himself as a true main event-caliber star in this match, hanging with both of his larger opponents until Lesnar’s match-ending comeback. This was the best Triple Threat since WrestleMania 20.
Eric Darsie – Roman Regins vs. Bray Wyatt Hell in a Cell match (WWE Hell in a Cell 2015). Going into Hell in a Cell 2015 pay-per-view, I wasn’t looking forward to anything. People seemed tired of Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt continuing their feud and not wanting Reigns to move to the main event, I was curious on how this match would turn out and the reaction both men would get from the crowd. The match blew away anything I expected and blew away any other match I enjoyed all year due to both men giving us their bodies and telling one hell of a story inside that Cell.
WWE Angle of the Year
Eric Gargiulo – The Undertaker Returns! There weren’t a ton of great angles this year but in my opinion, none was more exciting than the night the Undertaker returned at Battleground. The moment the lights went off and Undertaker stood toe-to-toe with Brock was something that gave me chills then and gives me chills watching today. I had a real hard time deciding between this and the night after that the two of them had a pull-apart on RAW but I think this one takes it by a nod.
Dustin Nichols – Kevin Owens’ Main Roster Debut & Win Over John Cena. Ugh. This is even worse than picking WOTY of the year, since pretty much the only angle, much like last year, was “Everyone vs. The Authority”. I don’t want to pick that, though, so I’m going with Kevin Owens’ debut and subsequent clean win over John Cena, not only because I like Owens, but during the promos, he said exactly what many of us were thinking when addressing John Cena. Of course, the payoff was nada, as Owens lost back-to-back rematches (against Cena? What are the odds?), but it was fun for a moment.
Nic Negrepontis – Fight Owens Fight. In a year without a great heel or face turn, I’d have to say the best angle of 2015 was the debut of Kevin Owens on Raw and his victory over John Cena at Elimination Chamber. Owens’ debut set him up completely as a character and stomping on the United States Championship was the icing on the cake. From there he’s become one of the most entertaining and interesting guys on the roster and the Kevin Owens Show has only just begun.
WrestleChat.net – Seth Rollins Cashes in at WrestleMania 31. Like the majority of people, I thought that Roman Reigns was going to finally be anointed “the guy” by the WWE and defeat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31. Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase at the “granddaddy of them all” was in the back of my mind as a possibility, but I never really got past the fact that John Cena was getting older and that the WWE was steadfast in its decision to use WrestleMania 31 as the time and place to prove that Roman Reigns was the future. In hindsight, Rollins cashing in at that point was incredible booking and absolutely the right call by the WWE. Brock didn’t get beat, Reigns looked incredibly strong in defeat, and a brand new Superstar was created that night in Santa Clara, California. Honorable Mention: Sting Finally Appears in a WWE Ring, The Dawn of The New Day, John Cena’s US Open Challenge, Kevin Owens Debuts & Beats John Cena, The Undertaker Celebrates 25 Years with WWE, Roman Reigns Long Road to the WWE Championship
Jeff Peck –Rollins cashes in at WrestleMania 31. Ever since the WWE introduced the Money In The Bank briefcase I always wondered when WWE would have someone cash in during the WrestleMania main event. Well the wait was over as Seth Rollins did just that at WM 31 this year. The moment, the reaction and the execution was simply perfect in solidifying Seth Rollins as a main event player & top heel in the WWE.
Paul Laska – The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar. They wrestled once this year but you can feel the impact of this feud; the quality of the appearances rather than the quantity of appearances. Undertaker coming out of nowhere costing Lesnar the WWE Title at Battleground was brilliant. Their rematch that personally, should’ve been slated for Wrestlemania 32 was a lot better than their match at Wrestlemania 30. The angle may be over but the effects of it were lasting.
Michelle Shelton – Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar leading into Wrestlemania 31. I chose this storyline because of the way it polarized the entire WWE audience & the way it impacted Roman Reigns future. When Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble, most WWE fans had an absolute meltdown (myself included). Brock Lesnar had been the most solid and dominant performer in WWE for the past year, and Roman Reigns had done nothing of merit up to that point. It was clear that WWE was hell bent on making Roman Reigns the face of the company, and we all hated it. His matches were lackluster, and his promo skills were nonexistent. Reigns just wasn’t ready to win the World Heavyweight Championship, and definitely not from Brock Lesnar. Some fans loved Reigns and thought that he could cement himself as the new top guy at WrestleMania. WWE quickly realized what a firestorm they had created, and attempted to make the most of it. Throughout the build-up to the match, Paul Heyman did an excellent job getting the audience invested and keeping everyone’s attention. He praised Roman Reigns, he humiliated Roman Reigns, and said everything in between. Brock Lesnar made it known that he just wanted to kick Reigns’ ass, and Reigns desperately tried to win over the WWE Universe. In the end, it was the best match of Roman Reigns’ career up to that point, Brock Lesnar wasn’t pinned and remained WWE’s resident monster, and Seth Rollins walked out with the title. The ending was unexpected and pleased the vast majority of fans. Having Reigns lose was the right decision, and only helped give him time and experience to further establish himself as a character and in-ring performer. Making it to the grandest stage of them all, only to lose, helped him gain some sympathy from fans, and gave him a clear path moving forward. As we all know now, it worked out for Roman Reigns in the end!
Scott Wallask – Seth Rollins cashing in Money in Bank at WrestleMania. Manias often don’t have surprises like that at the end, but it was a crazy way to wrap up the show and put the title on someone new that people believed in. The atmosphere of the Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns match was nuts to begin with, and Rollins running in at the end put things over the top.
Sarah Hirsch – The Rise of Sasha Banks. Sasha Banks showed up and came swinging this year, excelling on every NXT Takeover event she took part in. Most of those matches are deserved Match of the Year contenders and made history. No other woman can say that. Banks and her opponent(s) stole the show on every card, and she had a amazing 6 month reigns with the NXT Women’s Championship. Banks proved that she was changing the game in women’s wrestling, and not since the days of Trish Stratus and Lita has women made such a huge impact in WWE. Her main roster debut with Charlotte and Becky Lynch was well received, kicking the Divas Revolution into high gear. Although we have yet to see the fruits of her labor on the main roster, you can’t argue the run the Legit Bo$$ has had in NXT this year.
Andrew Ortman – Seth Rollins Winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Throughout 2015, we had a few great angles and many horrible ones. The best above all happened with the first ever Money in the Bank cash in at the main event of WrestleMania. Going into the show, there was much speculation about the outcome of the World Heavyweight Title match between champion Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. I just remember as the day grew closer, no one knew exactly what was going to happen and more so how the crowd would react to it. It was a shock to all when Seth Rollins ran down the ramp and within seconds was the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. It was not only the best ending to go with, but also, an epic moment etched in WrestleMania history.
Chris Slater – The U.S. Title Open Challenge. The League of Nations forming. Just kidding. Not to totally turn into a Cena mark, but it’s the US Open Challenge.The best angles get rid of the wacky gimmickry and focus on what Terry Funk famously said was on the marquee: “Wrestling, spelled Dubya-R-E-S-T-L-I-N-G.” Each week, Cena came out to the ring in an effort to put over the importance of the US Championship. He did that by professing his love of having the championship and the challenger did that by showing their willingness to compete for it. WWE often forgets that the 20×20 ring is where all the eyes are located. This is another thing that the company got right in 2015.
Justin Ballard – Seth Cashes In. As I said before, Rollins made history by cashing in Money in the Bank in the middle of the WrestleMania main event, creating a truly memorable end to the biggest show of the year. This finish was so well-executed many people were calling ‘Mania 31 one of the best shows of all time. That’s a major stretch at best, but there’s no denying that Rollins’ thievery created a unique, buzzworthy moment wrestling fans will be talking about for years to come.
Eric Darsie – The Wyatt Family Carrying the Undertaker out of WWE Hell in a Cell 2015. After his Hell in a Cell match against Brock Lesnar, it was great seeing the Undertaker being showered with cheers from the live crowd. Their SummerSlam match and their Hell in a Cell match blew away any expectations I had for those matches, but made me feel like I was five years old again was seeing the Wyatt Family appear in the ring after the lights turned out and did a Horsemen beat down on the Undertaker, carrying him out like a crucifix, out of the arena and out of the pay-per-view feed. Granted the feud to Survivor Series wasn’t the best, but the initial thrust made me forget that this moment happened in 2015
WWE Breakout Star of the Year
Eric Gargiulo – Seth Rollins. I went back and forth on this one between Rollins and Kevin Owens. This category is generally reserved for talent with new pushes or new entrants to the WWE main roster, but Rollins truly broke out this year on another level. While Owens had one of the most memorable debuts in recent memory, his start-stop push stalled his momentum throughout the year. Rollins on the other hand went from a member of a three-man unit to the top heel in the company by the end of 2015. People forget that it wasn’t even a year ago at WrestleMania 31 that Rollins was still wrestling with the Shield. Unfortunately for the rest of the roster, nobody had a year quite like Rollins so it give the breakout award to anyone else would just be downright foolish.
Dustin Nichols – Cesaro. Currently, WWE has a ton of young, hungry talent that are ready to take over the main event scene and become major stars. Of course, getting to that point requires WWE actually giving these guys a chance and sticking with it, instead of start/stopping every time they get cold feet (Hi, King Barrett). Even though he’s still struggling to break through, I have to go with Cesaro. WWE just has to get behind this guy, and I refuse to give up on him. The fans want to see him excel, and as it stands, he is the most complete wrestler on the roster. He can literally do any style, has loads of charisma, speaks five languages and in terms of marketability, he looks like Jason Statham. How is this not a winning formula for the creative team? Honorable mentions: Sheamus, Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler.
Nic Negrepontis – Kevin Owens. How can this award go to anyone other than Kevin Owens? The man debuted with the company at the end of 2014, was straight into the main-event of NXT at the beginning of 2015, was the NXT Champion within two months and the best heel within the entire WWE in three months and that’s before he even came to the main roster. A clean win over John Cena and a win over almost every other big name on the roster as well as winning the Intercontinental Championship, no one comes close to Owens.
WrestleChat.net – Kevin Owens. I don’t think that there’s much debate here. Of everyone who debuted with the WWE in 2015, none made the impact nor has the staying power that Kevin Owens does. Now, it’s possible that I’m a bit biased here. I’ve been a pretty big Kevin Owens fan since first seeing him in a CZW ring nearly 10 years ago. I followed his career in the Indies all the way up to his improbable signing with the WWE. In Owens debut match, he beat John Cena. That’s pretty damn big. Since then, Owens had an impressive reign as the Intercontinental Champion and I firmly believe that we’ll see Owens as a WWE Champion someday. Honorable Mention: Charlotte
Jeff Peck – The New Day. I highly recommend everyone to check out Jericho’s podcast and the “Table For 3” on the WWE Network both starring The New Day to get the incredible story on all the backstage stories on how The New Day was developed. Let’s face it, The New Day was given very little to work with and made it their own. A breakout year for all 3 stars and by far the best act in wrestling today.
Steve Grossi – Kevin Owens. Kevin Owens is without question the breakout star of 2015. From the moment he stepped into the WWE his impact is undeniable. He won the NXT Championship off Sami Zayn after being in NXT for just two months. Then just three months after that on his RAW debut he defeated John Cena clean. Four months later Owens defeated Ryback to win the Intercontinental Championship. Then, he would be a key player in the tournament to crown a new WWE World Heavyweight Championship after Seth Rollins’ injury. The way I see it, KO is the total package. He’s spectacular in the ring, knows the true psychology of a heel and is the best active superstar on the microphone. 2016 should be a big year for Kevin Owens.
Paul Laska – Kevin Owens. For someone to show up out of nowhere one night on RAW challenging John Cena to eventually winning the United State title, Owens has done in one year what aspiring wrestlers would kill for. This guy has a lot of potential of becoming a big heel in the future. What impresses me most about Owens is his speed and agility for a big guy. More important, his mic skills are impressive which is a key intangible of a professional wrestler. I hope the WWE utilizes his talents and not push him down to mid-card purgatory.
Michelle Shelton – Kevin Owens. Kevin Owens started off 2015 in NXT, defeating Sami Zayn for the NXT Championship in February. Anyone with a set of eyes and a little bit of sense could immediately see what an amazing performer he was, and the value that he would eventually bring to WWE’s main roster. His ascent to the main roster happened much faster than anyone expected; he confronted John Cena during his US Open Challenge segment in May in what most of us expected to be a one-off. It ended up becoming a heated rivalry that the audience couldn’t get enough of, with Owens defeating Cena at the Elimination Chamber event in what was his first match on WWE’s main roster. The way he debuted was unprecedented and gave fans a lot of hope for the character moving forward. Since his introductory storyline with Cena, Kevin Owens has steadily gained momentum and has proven himself as a force to be reckoned with. His “prizefighter” gimmick is perfectly suited for him, and his run as Intercontinental Champion has been one of the best IC title reigns in recent memory. Owens is unique, athletic, intimidating, and the character doesn’t care about anything or anyone but himself and his own accomplishments. He’s reminiscent of a classic, old-school bad guy, and he just keeps on getting better. Kevin Owens’ rise to the top has been rapid, and that’s a testament to what an all-around amazing performer he truly is.
Scott Wallask – Bailey. What a year for her, and the slow build to her winning the NXT women’s belt couldn’t have been better. And she’s really good in the ring despite a character that you wouldn’t think would work in the main event slot. Nikki Bella actually could be a runner up here — I don’t think a lot of people noticed how much she improved in the ring.
Sarah Hirsch – Kevin Owens. When you look at what all Kevin Owens has done, he’s had a huge impact this year in the WWE. He literally did it all in a span of several months. NXT Champion, a strong feud leading to a clean pin over John Cena, now Intercontinental Champion. He is a force to be reckoned with. Owens looks great wrestling and can run the mic. WWE made a great call bringing Owens up to the main roster as soon as they did. He’s an asset to the main roster and the seasoning he has absolutely shows.
Andrew Ortman – Sasha Banks. When talking about a breakout star, you always want to mention someone who has not only topped themselves with every match they have but also causes a stir with in the wrestling community. Sasha Banks has done just that. Her year in NXT was something I can almost call flawless. Her matches at the beginning of the year with Charlotte lit the new spark that women’s wrestling needed and her matches with Bayley in late summer/early fall showed that not only could the women put on incredible matches, but could main event major cards as well. Even though her time on the main roster as part of the so-called “Diva’s Revolution” has not lent to her well to her talents, you can still hear the amazing crowd reaction when her music hits. She proves she truly is “The Boss” being one of the best in-ring performers on the WWE roster today.
Chris Slater – Kevin Owens. Isn’t it weird how the stars align? My wrestler of the year, working my angle of the year, competed in my match of the year, which helped showcase my breakout star of 2015: Kevin Owens. The man behind the “Fight Owens Fight” mantra took WWE by storm, first winning the NXT Championship, then crashing Monday Night Raw to lay out Cena, then go on to beat him in his first WWE match. Nobody else has broken out this year in such magnificent fashion. Owens didn’t just come out of the midcard, he broke out straight from the indies. He gave no you-know-whats and cemented his place as a future star in WWE.
Justin Ballard – Sasha Banks. The “Divas Revolution” may be off to a slooooow start on the main roster, but down at NXT the women took center stage in 2015, overshadowing their male counterparts on nearly every Network special, and actually headlining the most recent one. The two highlights of NXT’s calendar year in my opinion were Sasha’s two matches against arch-rival Bayley, in which Sasha stood out as an absolute “total package” star. Time will tell if the main roster knows what they have with Sasha, but her work in NXT has proven her one of the best talents in the entire company, male or female. Don’t screw this one up, guys. You have an incredibly special athlete in your midst.
Eric Darsie – Roman Reigns. His microphone skills still aren’t where they should be in the eyes of few wrestling fans online, but in the ring, Roman Reigns blew my mind with his improvement all year long. If given the right verbiage and given short promos (which hides his lack-of-ability to cut a 20 minute monologue), Reigns will only but improve in 2016. Plus, with Daniel Bryan out again for most of the year, who else had pretty decent matches that the fans seem to accept?
WWE Story of the Year
Eric Gargiulo – Fall of Hulk Hogan. Not since Barry Bonds can I recall a star of a major sport falling as hard as Hogan did. In a matter of months Hogan went from legendary status with the WWE to persona non grata. The magnitude of the company practically erasing the past of its biggest star in history is just extraordinary. The Hulkster did it to himself, yet I think there is plenty of argument as to whether the WWE’s reaction was overboard. Regardless, the guy that built Vince McMahon’s empire is no longer welcome home and to me, there isn’t a bigger story.
Dustin Nichols – Hulk Hogan. I’d say the biggest story of the year would have to be Hulk Hogan joining Chris Benoit in the ranks of the Guys-Who-Never-Existed Club. I’m not surprised WWE would want to distance themselves from someone that made an ass of themselves in such a public way, and I’m not even surprised that it was done with Hogan, seeing as he’s a has-been who has done nothing in terms of bank for the company since he returned after his TNA run. However, it was a more than a little surprising that WWE severed ties after his termination completely, then proceeded to erase him from their history, including going so far as to getting rid of most of the programming on the WWE Network that included him. Vince holds a grudge like no one else.
Nic Negrepontis – The NXT Women’s Division. The rise of the NXT women’s division has been a story to behold. Yes, they’d put on some great matches before 2015, but what they’ve done this year is elevate the NXT Women’s Championship to the single most credible title in the company. It’s almost been a storyline in itself, starting with the fatal 4-way match between the now dubbed Four Horsewomen of NXT and ending with main-eventing NXT Takeover: Respect, everything in between has been outstanding and it’s a credit to everyone involved who really have changed the way the world looks at women’s wrestling.
WrestleChat.net – The Emergence of NXT. In 2014, NXT generated a cult-following for its underground feel and independent style. It was in 2015, however, that NXT became a force that exuded its staying-power. Ask 10 pro wrestling fans above the age of 16 if they prefer WWE or NXT, I bet that at least half tell you that they’d much rather watch NXT. As NXT continues to sign the biggest independent stars from around the world, this cult-following will only continue to grow. NXT has become a place for hardcore fans who no longer find interest in the WWE’s main roster product. In 2016, NXT is expected to become a full-touring brand and with that will likely come more Takeover’s. We’re at a unique time where pro wrestlers want to be in NXT and, dare I say it, where NXT graduates wish they could return to if all things were equal. Honorable Mention: The Deaths of Dusty Rhodes and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Daniel Bryan vs. WWE in a Battle to Return to Action (This will be VERY interesting in 2016), Brock Lesnar Re-Signs with WWE & Says His MMA Career is Over, Sting Makes His WWE Debut, Hulk Hogan Released After Racial Scandal.
Jeff Peck – RAW’s record low ratings.Wrestling’s popularity has been on the decline the last several years but it reached a brand new low at the end of 2015 the night after the dreadful Survivor Series PPV. RAW’s rating that night was the lowest it had been on a non-holiday edition of RAW since 1997 and for anyone who remembers wrestling during that pre-Attitude Era in ’97, it wasn’t good at all. WWE continues to push stars of the past and fails to give the ball to their talented roster to see what they can do with it. Poor storylines, bad programming and awful feuds have taken away from some really good matches from a talented roster in 2015.
Steve Grossi – The Injury Bug. It would be easy to go with the injuries suffered this year or the ratings issues WWE has faced but I am going to go with something more positive. The NXT explosion is the story of 2015. The women’s division burst onto the scene with match of the year candidates between Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte and Becky Lynch. Kevin Owens put himself on the map as a legit star with his performances against Sami Zayn. Finn Balor introduced us to the The Demon. We saw the debut of legendary Japanese wrestler Jushin Thunder Liger and the addition of Hideo Itami. NXT did the unthinkable and blew the roof off Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York in front of over 15,000 and then did it again across the pond in front of over 10,000 fans in London, England. NXT proved they were more than just a developmental brand and thanks to Triple H will continue their meteoric rise in 2016.
Paul Laska – Daniel Bryan’s Injury. The YES Movement came to screeching halt last year due to injury. But this year, Bryan got hurt again. This is concerning for both Bryan and the WWE. For Bryan, he may have to make some hard choices for his health yet wondering if he can’t do something he has passion for. For the WWE, they have a wrestler in whom the WWE fans loves but are skittish putting him back in the ring for fear of additional injury. This will be something to watch very closely in 2016.
Michelle Shelton – Hulk Hogan Being Fired from WWE. This was the biggest story of 2015 because of Hulk Hogan’s mainstream popularity. He transcends professional wrestling and is a cultural icon. When the racist remarks Hogan made on a sex tape were made public in July, WWE was quick to cut ties with their biggest star in history, and they never looked back. The media circus that followed the story was incredible. I was never a huge fan of Hogan, but I can’t imagine my childhood hero falling from grace in such an awful way. The same day the audio was released, WWE basically erased him from memory; they took him off of their website entirely, their Hall of Fame page, everything. It’s almost as if he never existed at all. Strange? Of course it is, but as a publicly traded company, it was a necessary move. I applaud WWE for having the conviction to make such a bold move, regardless of how much money he draws for the company.
Scott Wallask – The collapse of the Raw ratings. Just about every American-based promotion suffered TV woes, including the WWE bottoming out in Raw ratings. A lot of people say the WWE is more about the network and it has guaranteed money with the USA deal, but history shows that any change in leadership at a TV network can kill wrestling (WCW, TNA, etc.). Bottom line: Raw has lost some of its powerhouse status in the ratings, and the terrible booking and lack of new stars are to blame.
Sarah Hirsch – Zahra Schreiber Controversy. I don’t think there was a bigger controversy than Hulk Hogan’s racist rant, but this one was a close second. This woman was bad news from the start. She wasn’t even close to making her NXT debut and she was involved in a major scandal as Seth Rollins’ real life mistress (via leaked nude photos and messages found by Rollins’ fiancee’). Several months later, it was brought to WWE’s attention about offensive photos found on her Instagram. This is one of those situations where WWE made the right call. Its obvious Schreiber has a lot of issues, and it would just be PR disaster after PR disaster cleaning up her mess had she stayed employed. Overall, you don’t want someone like that to be representing your company regardless if she’s with one of your top guys.
Andrew Ortman – Legends Pass Away. Sadly the story or, in this case, stories of the year must go to the legends the wrestling world lost. Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes, Verne Gagne, Nick Bockwinkel, Buddy Landell and Perro Aguayo Jr. It seemed throughout the year, every time I would read the wrestling news or be listening to a podcast, another beloved legend was gone. Rest in peace to these pro wrestling icons. Every Time a wrestler steps in the ring or gives a promo, the influence, memories and legacies of these greats will live on forever.
Chris Slater – Daniel Bryan’s Career Crossroads. Daniel Bryan’s stalemate with WWE. It looks like the original plan this year was for Cena to reinvigorate the US Championship while Daniel Bryan would rehab the Intercontinental Championship’s image. Shortly after winning the title, Bryan received a gross-looking scar on his forehead and a presumably-grosser concussion during a match with Sheamus. Bryan has not had a match since. Bryan is saying that he can compete while WWE’s doctors are saying that he cannot. Bryan wants to wrestle again, having gotten his own outside opinion saying his brain is fine. He has stressed on interviews that his wrestling career is not over, but that may mean the end of his WWE career. This one also has the potential to be our 2016 story of the year.
Justin Ballard – The Injury Bug. 2015 has not been kind to the WWE roster in terms of staying healthy. Multiple Championship reigns have been cut short due to untimely injuries, and right now the top tier of the roster is as thin as it’s ever been. John Cena’s non-injury-related absence notwithstanding, currently the company is missing Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, Nikki Bella, Tyson Kidd, Sami Zayn, Hideo Itami, and on top of that Sting. Rollins and Bryan were both forced to vacate Titles, Kidd’s career-threatening neck injury derailed a top tag team act, and Sting was barely able to finish his match with Rollins in September. The one positive WWE could take away from this is the potential wake-up call that today’s stars (and the stars of yesteryear, around whom every WrestleMania seems to be built these days), won’t be around forever. The time is now to create the next crop of headliners so that when a top guy is forced to the sidelines you have someone to fill that void. With The Rock and Ronda Rousey (and apparently Batista) likely unavailable for WrestleMania 32, WWE is now scrambling to put the pieces together in the hopes of selling out the 100,000-seat AT&T Stadium. This is what’s known as “The Chickens Coming Home to Roost.” When you neglect to build for the future and continually book your biggest shows around yesterday’s headliners, you’re setting yourself up for long-term failure. I really hope WWE understands the hole they’ve dug for themselves and acts now to repair it.
Eric Darsie – The Seth Rollins as WWE Champion Experience. When WrestleMania 31 closed, I was excited to see Seth Rollins as our WWE World Heavyweight Champion and I was looking forward to seeing how he gets booked. What turned down the disappointment road came when he defeated Dean Amborse at the WWE Money in the Bank 2015 show where Rollins wanted to prove to the Authority he can win a match on his own. What came of that afterwards? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s what hurt the Rollins title run in my eyes, the seed being planted on Rollins turning from the Authority and turning babyface never happened.
Dustin Nichols is a freelance writer, and you can keep track of all of his work on his Facebook page, which can be found at www.facebook.com/DustinNicholsWriter.
Michelle Shelton is a mom, lifelong pro-wrestling fan, and blogger from Cleveland, Ohio. She enjoys writing articles that start conversations amongst wrestling fans, and challenge them to think about different things. More of her articles can be found on her blog, Michelle’s World of WWE, at michellelee905.wordpress.com.
Steven Grossi is a digital video producer who likes to write a little. He’s a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, hardcore MMA fan and a total wrestling nerd. He usually has a strong opinion on anything combat sports related so give him a follow on twitter @SteveOGrossi.
Scott Wallask has followed wrestling for 30 years and writes about growing up watching the WWF in the 1980s on his blog the Boston Garden Balcony.
Drew Ortman is a writer, wrestling fan and guitarist who resides in Chillicothe, Ohio. He is a graduate of Ohio University and former pro wrestling newspaper reporter. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @drewortman.
Paul Laska is a Self-Published Author, Sports Writer, & Travel Writer who resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Currently working on articles on Sevilla, Lisbon, and Oregon while writing a new novel for a 2015 release. Check out my Facebook page, Laska Travels. I’m also a freelance writer. Contact me for potential projects.
Justin Ballard has been a wrestling fan/historian/obsessive for three decades, amassing an encyclopedic knowledge of this fake sport most of his friends and family find alarming at best. His own blog covering wrestling, movies, music, TV, etc. can be found at Enuffa.com, and he also contributes to BumWineBob.com and WWFOldSchool.com. He can be found on Twitter @EnuffaDotCom and on Facebook at facebook.com/enuffa.