To read part one of the WWE Johnny Awards, click here right now.
- THE "NEXT BIG THING" AWARD
To be given to the wrestler that is most likely to be the "next big thing" in the new year. Past winners - 2014: Bray Wyatt, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Dolph Ziggler, 2011: Cody Rhodes, 2010: Alberto Del Rio, 2009: John Morrison
Winner: Sami Zayn (Runner-Up: Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Bayley)
This was a tough one to pick: Zayn or Balor? I'm going with Zayn because I think he's the better all around performer that combines exceptional in-ring work with great promos. He wasn't always a great talker, but he's improved in the last few years and I feel like he can be the biggest babyface in WWE if they let him. There's no reason for him to be in NXT for that long. Get him on the main roster for the Royal Rumble.
Balor's got a bright future just like Zayn. His look, especially with the Demon entrance, is the coolest thing in WWE right now. You can't take your eyes off the guy when he does that. That's star power. He isn't the best on promos although I feel like that's just a case of him not getting that many opportunities. As he gets more comfortable, he'll get better at them.
If Samoa Joe were to be promoted to the main roster he would thrive. They could book him as a top heel that goes after John Cena right away. There's a backstory because they trained together 15 years ago when they were starting out in California. My worry is that they may be content to just keep him in NXT, which is fine, but I want to see him perform on the bigger stage too.
I'd love to be optimistic and say that Bayley's going to be a big deal on the main roster. I just don't know if it's to happen because of how Vince McMahon books women. They never seem to book them right. She has all the tools to be a special performer as well as an inspiration to female wrestling fans everywhere.
Others to keep an eye on: Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin and Jason Jordan/Chad Gable.
- BEST HEEL
To be given to the performer that is the best at drawing the ire of the audience. Past winners 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: Daniel Bryan, 2011: Christian. Award began in 2011.
Winner: Seth Rollins (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens, Sasha Banks, The New Day)
We have a repeat. I don't think it's very close either. Rollins was by far the best heel and it was showed by how sorely lacking the heel side was when he left. It would have been nice if he was booked stronger because he was too much of a cheap heel, so much so that his title reign was bad at times. Why have him lose so many non-title matches? It was frustrating to watch. He'll probably be a face when he returns next summer.
Here's hoping that one day Owens can be unleashed as the top heel on the main roster. He was so good in NXT at the start of the year. He's still very good in general, but they don't let him talk enough. Maybe losing the IC Title will open things up for him.
Sasha Banks is a pure heel. She trash talks and then she backs it up in the ring with her exceptional performances in the ring. I feel like creative is going to turn her face in the new year because of all the "We Want Sasha" chants. I hope it doesn't make her uncool as a face.
The New Day are great performers that are definite contenders as well. They are comedic heels more than anything, but they have credibility as WWE's best tag team.
A shoutout to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon for being good heels when they need to be. Problem is, they aren't consistent in their roles, so it can be difficult to watch at times as they try to be faces at other times too. Make up your damn minds!
Bray Wyatt should be mentioned here, but he was made to look like a fool too often. Plus, he loses all his big feuds to bigger names (John Cena, Roman Reigns, The Undertaker), so fans won't see him as a star. He can beat The Dudley Boyz every week though!
- BEST BABYFACE
To be given to the performer that is the best at receiving the adulation of the audience. Past winners - 2014: Dolph Ziggler, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: John Cena, 2011: Randy Orton. Award began in 2011.
Winner: John Cena (Runners-Up: Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Bayley)
Cena came so close to winning Wrestler of the Year, but at least he can know he's the Babyface of the Year. He had a great year while having some of the best matches of his life. He really didn't go after the WWE Title that much (aside from SummerSlam), so it was weird in that way. Normally he's always around the WWE Title, yet this year he made a point to make the US Title mean something. It worked.
Roman Reigns has his haters, but he is a true babyface that was able to overcome bad writing to end the year strong as the WWE Champion. The creative team finally realized he needs to be booked more like Steve Austin and less like John Cena. It seems to be working for him now.
I like Dean Ambrose a lot even though I have written many times this year that he would be better off as a heel. It would allow him to do more promos and potentially stand out more. As a face he gets good reactions. I just don't think he's reaching his full potential.
Bayley is the most pure babyface in the entire company along with Cena. It's hard not to like her or root for her in every match she's in. Whether she's against a cocky heel like Banks or a bigger foe like Nia Jax, she always finds a way to get the fans behind her.
If Brock Lesnar was a full timer maybe he would have won this. Since he's not around enough, I have a hard time putting him over the others. I still think he's better off as a heel, but WWE must realize that fans are going to cheer him due to his star power and because of that, he'll be in the face role for the time being.
- BIGGEST NEWS STORY
The stories of the year that we'll always remember when looking back at the year that was. Past winners - 2014: CM Punk leaving WWE, 2013: The WWE Network Still Isn't Here, 2012: Jerry Lawler's heart attack, 2011: The death of Randy Savage, 2010: The departure of several big names (Shawn Michaels), 2009: Shane McMahon leaves WWE
Winner: Injuries Decimate The Roster (Runners-Up: Hulk Hogan gets fired, Deaths of Rhodes & Piper)
Daniel Bryan (concussion). Seth Rollins (knee). Randy Orton (shoulder/neck). Cesaro (shoulder). Tyson Kidd (neck). Sami Zayn (shoulder). Hideo Itami (shoulder). Jey Uso (shoulder). Goldust (shoulder).
Those are just some of the names that have missed significant time this year (or into next year) due to serious injuries. I was going to put Daniel Bryan alone because we have no idea when he'll get back in the ring after a concussion in April. He has said for months that doctors have cleared him, but WWE is reluctant to do so and they may never allow him to wrestle again.
It's been really difficult for WWE to fill in the gaps left by some of these guys. I hope this sort of thing isn't a trend going forward and that it's just a case of bad luck. The fact is these guys/gals put their bodies on the line 4-5 times per week in some cases and it's going to happen. Sad but true.
Hulk Hogan getting fired over racist remarks on a sex tape (that he was not aware of) from a decade ago were a huge story. It led to WWE cutting all ties with him after using him as a judge on Tough Enough and putting him on television regularly. I think he'll be back in the mix in a year or two, but this has definitely tarnished his legacy.
Lastly, the deaths of Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper this summer were very difficult for the wrestling community to deal with. Dusty worked so closely with the NXT stars while Roddy was a legend that WWE loved bringing back once in a while. Both legends are missed tremendously.
- BEST INDIVIDUAL PROMO
To be given to the one speech that was the best in the last year. Past winners - 2014: Daniel Bryan "Occupy Raw" face to face with Triple H @ Raw March 10, 2013: Mark Henry @ Raw June 17, 2012: Kane's Speech at Anger Management @ Raw August 27
Winner: The Rock with Ronda Rousey, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania
It's true that things that happen at WrestleMania tend to be remembered more often. At this year's WrestleMania, The Rock made an unannounced appearance as Stephanie McMahon and Triple H were in the ring bragging about how it was their show. In a segment that lasted about 20 minutes, The Rock informed them that it was the "People's Show" and that didn't sit well, so Rock left. Since he couldn't hit a woman, he brought his friend Ronda Rousey (conveniently sitting ringside) into the ring and she took down Stephanie as well as Triple H rather easily.
That moment wasn't advertised for the show, nor was it was expected. There were rumblings that The Rock might be there, but it was one of those things where nobody knew for sure. The Rousey surprise was really cool because she had never done anything in a WWE ring before this. It came off so well. How many other people could pull off a 20 minute promo segment in the middle of a WrestleMania? The Rock is a special talent that is the best talker in WWE history as well.
As for other individual promos, there are certainly some things said by Kevin Owens or Paul Heyman that were great, but The Rock is a clear winner of this one.
- BEST TURN
To be given to the best babyface or heel turn that benefited the performer the most. Past winners - 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Randy Orton, 2012: Big Show, 2011: Mark Henry, 2010: Kane, 2009: CM Punk
Winner: The New Day (Runners-Up: Randy Orton, Samoa Joe)
An example of WWE's poor creative team this year is evident in this category because there really weren't any significant heel or face turns that really changed things up the way they have done in the past.
The New Day wins this one because they debuted as a trio in late 2014, they were pushed as a face group in early 2015 and it was obvious it wasn't working. All of their "power of positivity" was really lame. After WrestleMania, crowds chanted "New Day sucks" at them repeatedly. They turned heel shortly after that, won the Tag Team Titles for the first time at Extreme Rules (I was there for it) and went on to have a great run as the best tag team in WWE. What's funny is they didn't turn because of good writing. They turned because of bad writing, not because of some creative angle that WWE set up. Think about that. It's WWE in 2015 in a nutshell.
For other turns, I could only really think of Randy Orton going face early in the year to set up his feud with Seth Rollins. It was very obvious, but it was well done and the crowd popped big for it when it finally happened.
Samoa Joe's recent heel turn on Finn Balor in NXT was good although I don't think he was that established as a face for it to mean that much. It just felt like something they did in order to get a main event match at NXT Takeover London in December.
Hopefully there are some significant turns in WWE in 2016. Names like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler come to mind.
- THE "KTFO" AWARD
To be given to the person or thing that deserves to be KNOCKED THE F**K OUT~! Past winners - 2014: The Bunny & Adam Rose, 2013: The Great Khali, 2012: Teddy Long, 2011: Michael Cole, 2010: The anonymous GM angle, 2009: Michael Cole
Winner: The WWE Creative Team
I've never done this before, but I have to give this "coveted" award to WWE's Creative Team. Despite having one of the best rosters in the history of the company, the Creative Team has had a really poor year. Gone are the days of unpredictability and surprises. They don't take any risks anymore. I'm not sure if this is because Vince McMahon is an out of touch 70 year old man or if they worry about offending potential new sponsors like Coca-Cola, who had previously stayed away from WWE due to their programming.
It's been a frustrating product to watch. The matches tend to be good to great very often, but creative needs to be so much better.
- MOST IMPROVED PERFORMER
To be given to the performer that has shown the most improvement in the last year. Past winners - 2014: Damien Mizdow, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Ryback, 2011: Zack Ryder, 2010: Cody Rhodes, 2009: Kofi Kingston
Winner: Bayley (Runners-Up: The New Day)
The clear cut winner to me is Bayley. By giving this award to her, it doesn't mean that I think she was ever a bad performer. It's not like that at all. All I'm saying is that she had the best year of her career by far, to the point that she was one of the best wrestlers in the whole company. To go from a midcard girl in NXT to a legit main eventer in NXT shows how far she's come. As a worker she got better, as a talker she improved a lot and in terms of her star power, she's a big deal now. Hard work pays off.
I think all three guys in The New Day were good before they became a group. It's fair to say that they improved significantly when they came together. Kofi Kingston had gotten stale as a solo act after all these years, but he's found new life as a heel. A few years ago Big E debuted as a bodyguard that didn't talk much. Now he's one of the most entertaining guys on the microphone because he looks comfortable out there. He's a future World Champion. Xavier Woods spent years waiting to break through. Now he's in his comfort zone as an annoying mouthpiece for the group that is pretty good in-ring too when he gets the chance.
- BEST VIDEO PACKAGE
To be given to the best video package that highlights a feud, performer or other event. Past winners - 2014: Daniel Bryan @ WrestleMania 30 "Monster", 2013: CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar @ SummerSlam, 2012: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena @ Extreme Rules, 2011: The "Macho Man" Randy Savage tribute video, 2010 winner: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Winner: Brock Lesnar/Undertaker for SummerSlam (Runners-Up: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn for NXT Takeover Rival, Bayley vs. Sasha Banks for NXT Takeover Respect)
This is always a tough category because WWE does some phenomenal video packages every year. Three stood out to me.
When I watched the video of Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker leading up to SummerSlam I was amazed how good it was. They really didn't do anything that complex because it just featured clips of things from the past as well as comments from other people in wrestling, but it worked so well. This is the kind of hype video that UFC does all the time and it works so well. WWE doesn't do them enough. That's what made it stand out. You can watch this and easily see why it was billed as arguably the biggest match of the year.
I can remember sending this Owens/Zayn video a friend that doesn't watch NXT because I wanted to see if he could understand why I was so excited for this match. It was the story of two former best friends that worked hard to get to the same spot and one of them got jealous of the other guy when he made it to the top. Easy story to follow and my friend totally got it too. It got me so hyped for their match in February. Perfect hype video.
I may be biased towards this one since I was at the NXT Takeover Respect event in Orlando where I saw video packages about this match a few times. It did an excellent job of showcasing their classic match at NXT Takeover Brooklyn, then it followed the storyline that took place after with Banks talking about how she wanted to get her title back. Then there were exclusive comments from each woman as well as clips of them training in the gym. A tremendous video to get people ready for the historic Iron Man match that they had.
Also worth checking out are WWE's tribute videos to the late Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper.
- MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
To be given to the most memorable moment of the year. Past winners - 2014: The Undertaker's undefeated streak ends at WrestleMania 30 when he loses to Brock Lesnar, 2013: Daniel Bryan wins WWE Title leading to heel Triple H/Orton, 2012: Brock Lesnar's Return April 2 on Raw, 2011: CM Punk's Promo June 27 on Raw, 2010 winner: Bret & Shawn embrace in the ring, 2009 winner: The Undertaker/Michaels match
Winner: Seth Rollins becomes WWE Champion at WrestleMania 31 (Runners-up: Kevin Owens pins John Cena clean at Elimination Chamber, Brock Lesnar brawls with The Undertaker on Raw, Brock Lesnar's rampage on Raw after WrestleMania, Samoa Joe debuts in NXT, Main roster debuts of Charlotte, Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch on Raw)
The moment I'll remember most about WWE in 2015 is Seth Rollins leaving WrestleMania 31 as the WWE Champion after cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase. He pinned Roman Reigns to win the title while Brock Lesnar was never pinned. I didn't see it coming. Some people did. It had never been done before. If it ever happens again it won't have the magical feeling that this one did. Great ending to the best PPV of the year.
Owens pinning Cena was huge. It was another one of those moments that I didn't expect. I can remember getting a bunch of texts and seeing all these tweets pop up as I reviewed that show live. It was such a huge deal at the time. Owens losing to Cena two times after that hurt the win a bit, but as a singular moment it was huge.
That Lesnar/Undertaker brawl on Raw in July was incredible. One of the best pull apart brawls you'll ever see in WWE. It took about 20 minutes too. Normally they are quick and that's it. Not this one. There was a believability factor to it where you could sympathize with both guys too.
Lesnar's post WrestleMania attack on Raw was outstanding. He is at his best when he's out there destroying people and whatever objects are nearby. It's fair to say it was one of the most believable things in WWE this year. You could see why this guy was mad. Nobody throws a fit better than (cue Paul Heyman voice) Brrrrrrock Lesnarrrrr!
Samoa Joe's NXT debut in May was a huge moment because I never thought it was going to happen. I'm a huge fan of him and for him to finally sign a WWE deal after wrestling elsewhere for like 15 years was a big deal. Whether it was a surprise or whether you knew about it beforehand, the fact that it even took place was huge. Too bad his feud with Owens never got to become the big deal it should have been.
I haven't loved everything about the "Divas Revolution" on Raw, but I really liked how they debuted Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. It wasn't perfect with Stephanie McMahon doing it because it felt like she was assigning them spots. They could have gone about it in a different way where Paige said she had backup (Charlotte & Lynch) while Naomi said she did too (Banks). Still, as a moment it was pretty cool.
THE MINOR AWARDS
These are other awards/random thoughts that I basically made up off the top of my head without going into full details. There are 10 of them. I could do more, but this is a long enough column as it is.
Best WWE TV Show - NXT
I think it's a pretty easy choice once again. The fact that NXT is only a one hour show certainly helps it because it rarely drags like three hours of Raw and Smackdown doesn't seem to matter anymore at two hours. That doesn't mean that NXT is always great because there are some weeks where they have boring matches, but the story development is much better than the other two shows. I hope NXT never becomes more than hour long show because it's perfect how it is.
Best Crowd - NXT Takeover London
It's fresh in my mind because the show was a couple of weeks ago. I know some other crowds were great like NXT Brooklyn and the Raw after WrestleMania, but I thought the fans in England were the best of the year.
Biggest off screen news story - Hulk Hogan gets fired for racial slurs
The Hogan story was massive. Like I mentioned earlier, I think over the next year or two they will find a way to bring him back, but they did the right thing in moving on when they did.
Best non-wrestler - Paul Heyman
He wins again. I don't think there's a question about it although I like him more as a heel than as a face.
Best finishing move - Kevin Owens' Popup Powerbomb
Since he is my favorite wrestler in WWE that is actually healthy right now, the Popup Powerbomb that Owens uses is at the top of the list. I know that Powerbomb is a very common move, but the way he tosses a guy into the ropes, lifts them up and slams them down makes it look a lot more devastating. If Seth Rollins was still doing the Curb Stomp, that might have been my pick.
Best announcer - Corey Graves
I think Graves is the best by a wide margin. I wrote a debut article for AwfulAnnouncing.com ranking the announcers and put Graves at the top of that last. Check it out to see where the others rate. Keep an eye on Mauro Ranallo on the Smackdown brand this year because he could be the winner of this award next year.
Best WWE Network Show - Breaking Ground
This is a great show that takes fans behind the scenes for things that take place behind the scenes at NXT and the WWE Performance Center. I like a lot of other thins on the network, but this show is really worth your time if you haven't seen it before.
Best DVD/Blu-Ray - Owen Hart
It's another one that is fresh in my mind because I only picked t up within the last week. Great documentary with a number of different people talking about him ranging from those that knew him to those that only watched as a fan.
Most poorly used performer - Damien Sandow
There are so many to pick from. In addition to Sandow, guys like King Barrett, Rusev, Dolph Ziggler, Fandango and others come to mind. WWE is doing a terrible job of utilizing of some of their midcard talent these days.
The JTG "That Person Still Works in WWE?" Award - Heath Slater
Poor Heath has become a joke. I think he's got talent, but they even made a joke out of him doing an exclusive WWE.com interview last week. At least with David Otunga he's working on the Raw pre-show, which I don't watch. Slater's barely visible on television.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WWE IN 2015
Since I always like to rate the shows out of 10, how about a rating for the year? Here's how I rated the last five years.
This year I'm going with a 5.5 out of 10. Same as last year.
It was tough to think of a score. I think the quality of matches from top to bottom on the main roster and NXT led to me to keep the score around an average grade although the booking has been poor all things considered.
What a frustrating year it's been for WWE. In terms of wrestlers on the roster, they have such a talented group of performers, yet they can't ever seem to get the momentum going for months at a time to put on an entertaining product consistently.
This has been one of the most boring years to write about the WWE product in my 15 years of doing this. For the past seven years I've written about every Raw and every PPV. When I look back on all those years, at least there are some things that I can point to as examples of very good to great storytelling. This year? There just isn't a whole lot.
The three episodes of Raw that followed Survivor Series were among the worst shows of the year. Triple H went on a conference call where he basically admitted that the product was bad and they needed to be better. A week after that third one, they had a great episode with Reigns leaving as the WWE Champion. Action packed show all night. Then a terrible Slammys show and it's back to mediocrity. That's how the year has been. One step forward and two steps back. Just give us some consistency, please.
The talent is very good in WWE. The creative team is not. It can get better and here's hoping that there is some significant improvement in 2016. It's really not that hard if they keep it simple.
At least there's NXT, which is a traditional wrestling show that is entertaining every week. Great year for NXT with high expectations heading into 2016 as well.
This is my favorite column to write every year. I say this part every year: If you're one of those people that reads a lot of my work without writing this is one of those times where I'm asking for your thoughts because I want to know what you thought. Don't be shy. I reply to all emails. You can also contact me on Twitter or Facebook - the links to those are at the bottom of the post.
Thank you to my good friend Steve Melo for the banner you saw at the top of this post. He also does the banners for every one of my columns including the always fun "preferred" Raw Deal banners, PPV banners and more. We might be putting out some TJRWrestling shirts in the New Year too.
I wish you all a safe and happy New Year in 2016. I'll keep writing and I hope you'll keep reading.
As I said, please don't hesitate to contact me. My contact info is below. Thanks so much for reading!
John Canton - firstname.lastname@example.org