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2019 pro wrestling awards

2019 pro wrestling awards

It’s the last of our FGB Awards for the year – check out our 2019 Pro Wrestling Awards.

You can read our 2019 boxing and MMA awards.

Here are the categories:

Most Outstanding Wrestler
Show of the Year
Match of the Year
Breakout Star
Who’s Next

Participating in the awards are Duan, Alan and myself as usual. New this year are Paul Fontaine, Christopher Garcia, Justin Knipper, Damian Gonzalez, Jeremy Finestone, and the Hardcore Canadian, Peter H.

Most Outstanding Wrestler

Duan: Will Ospreay
It’s possible nobody will ever again have a year like Ospeay did in 2019 – the New Japan Cup, the best of the Super Juniors, the G1, the matches with Ibushi, Okada, Shingo and Dragon Lee, and that’s limiting it just to his work in NJPW. When New Japan needed guys to step up this year, Ospreay was the one who answered the call loudest. He stands as the wrestler most capable of filling the void left after Kenny Omega’s departure.

Duan’s previous winners:
2018: Walter
2017: Kenny Omega
2016: AJ Styles
2015: Jay Lethal
2014: Seth Rollins
2013: Daniel Bryan
2012: CM Punk
2011: Dolph Ziggler
2010: John Cena
2009: Chris Jericho
2008: Jeff Hardy

Alan: Will Ospreay
No wrestler has ever produced so many great matches in one year. It’s not even close. The Best Of The Super Juniors, the G1 Climax, the New Japan Cup, the Super J Cup, the Super Junior Tag League; Will spent the year lighting NJPW’s tournaments on fire. He built on his legacy which is already insane at 26 years of age. In between making himself look like the best in the world, he also find time to selflessly elevate others be it A-Kid in Spain, Scotty Davis in Ireland, Ren Narita at Korakuen or his Birds Of Prey partner Robbie Eagles in Australia. A truly outrageous year.

Alan’s previous winners:
2018: Walter
2017: Kazuchika Okada
2016: Kazuchika Okada
2015: Yuji Okabayashi
2014: Tomohiro Ishii
2013: Kazuchika Okada
2012: Kazuchika Okada
2011: Daisuke Sekimoto and Akira Tozawa
2010: Chris Hero
2009: KENTA
2008: Shingo Takagi

Paul: Chris Jericho
Maybe not the best in the ring but in every other aspect of professional wrestler, he was head and shoulders above everyone and maybe the best in several years.

Christopher: Will Ospreay
While I would love to say Kento Miyahara, Ospreay had so many amazing matches, and while Okada had a bigger year on-top, and Gargano may have been more impressive in the setting, Ospreay hit it out of the park more often than anyone else. 

Justin: Kento Miyahara
Put him in a singles match with anyone and you’re going to get, at the very least, an above average match. That is how red-hot Kento Miyahara is right now. His showing in this year’s Champion Carnival alone rivals some of this year’s top G1 Climax runs in NJPW, but particularly his matches at Korakuen Hall with Suwama, Jake Lee and Naoya Nomura (twice), are prime-time examples of All Japan’s excellent in-ring year. He’s still just 30 and has a way to go, but everyone who watches Miyahara regularly knows he’s a meteor waiting to crash-land into wrestling’s mainstream consciousness.

Damian: Adam Cole
I can’t speak to New Japan as I haven’t had much time to watch it this year, so I’d have to go with NXT Champion Adam Cole. He was a last minute replacement in the Gargano title match at Takeover NY and proceeded to have a match that was called one of the best matches in WWE history. Despite losing that contest, he went on to win the NXT title at the next Takeover in another excellent match with Johnny Gargano and has been positioned as the face of NXT. During the build up to Survivor Series, he had great matches with top tier talent such as Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins, worked Raw, a ladder match on NXT, Smackdown, Takeover: WarGames (taking a crazy bump) and Survivor Series all within a week. He’s clearly the workhorse of the brand and set up to hopefully make a splash on the main roster in 2020

Jeremy: Kota Ibushi
Fought real injuries to go on a massive tear from the first night of the 2019 Wrestle Kingdom through the G1 to challenge Okada in the first main event of 2020.

Peter: Will Ospreay
He had a great match to start the year winning the NEVER Openweight title vs Kota Ibushi and really shined in his match against Jeff Cobb at the G1 Supershow. Throw in his amazing matches vs Okada and winning the BOSJ in a classic against Takagi and it made this choice an easy one. Also his performance in the G1 sealed the deal and I am excited what he does in 2020.

GG: Will Ospreay
I know how big of a star Will was in 2019 when one of the major themes I’m looking for in 2020 is if he can possibly win the IWGP Heavyweight title in 2020.

GG’s previous winners:
2018: Kenny Omega
2017: Kazuchika Okada
2016: AJ Styles
2015: AJ Styles
2014: Adrian Neville
2013: Daniel Bryan
2012: CM Punk
2011: Dolph Ziggler
2010: Daniel Bryan
2009: Chris Jericho
2008: Chris Jericho

Show of the Year

Duan: G1 Climax 29 Final
There’s some magic in how New Japan books this show every year. It should be impossible to sum up the crazy and at times grueling month of G1 in one night but they somehow manage to do it. While there were definitely better cards match for match last year, there was nothing that even came close in terms of rewarding the viewer for taking the journey. The longer and more closely you followed, the better the pay off was.

Duan’s previous winners:
2018: NXT TakeOver: New Orleans
2017: NXT TakeOver: Chicago
2016: Progress Brixton
2015: Ultimo Lucha
2014: Payback
2013: SummerSlam
2012: TLC
2011: Money In The Bank
2010: WrestleMania XXVI
2009: Judgment Day
2008: WrestleMania 24

Alan: Wrestle Kingdom 13
When you open with a match like Ospreay versus Ibushi and close with an epic like Omega versus Tanahashi, it’s going to be tough to top.

Alan’s previous winners:
2018: OTT WrestleRama II
2017: Wrestle Kingdom 11
2016: Wrestle Kingdom 10
2015: Wrestle Kingdom 9
2014: NJPW G1 Climax Day 7
2013: NJPW G1 Climax Day 4
2012: NJPW King Of Pro Wrestling
2011: PWG DDT4
2010: PWG Seven
2009: PWG Threemendous 2
2008: ROH Supercard Of Honor 3

Paul: AEW Double Or Nothing
It featured a match of the year contender with Cody versus Dustin, a surprise appearance of Jon Moxley, and the most rabid fans for a big arena show that you’ll almost ever see.

Christopher: NXT TakeOver: New York
How amazing was this show? The big thing here was effective placement of every match, the flow of the show, the fact that every piece of talent was able to show off their best work. While AEW is also very good at it, NXT sets up their shows with the idea that every piece of talent can expose their best stuff, not just their most spectacular stuff, on every TakeOver. 

Justin: Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport
I can’t think of a more intriguing pro wrestling experiment than Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport, nor can I think of a promotion in today’s market now that offers such a pure, no-frills product. And we’re talking just one show! Barnett’s first Bloodsport, a shoot wrestling dream match event now taking place twice a year, saw some of the scene’s top wrestlers who also carry with them a martial arts or serious grappling background. Barnett and Minoru Suzuki went to a fierce, critically-acclaimed draw in the main event, while former IGF competitor and freelance phenom Hideki Suzuki had a technical, bloody fight with Timothy Thatcher in the semi-main, though everything was watchable because Bloodsport’s premise is so fresh. For those looking for a more serious, logical and up-to-date vision of pro wrestling, Bloodsport is the show.

Damian: AEW Double Or Nothing
After having attended WrestleMania 35, TakeOver: New York and Takeover: XXV as well as Money in the Bank all within a 6 week period, you’d have thought I’d have been burned out of live wrestling shows. However, by the time May 25th rolled around, the hype for AEW’s first show was at a fever pitch with an entire weekend built around it. The stars were aligned as AEW did something incredible and unprecedented as they were able to break 100,000 buys without TV, had a match rated five stars by the Wrestling Observer on their first show, and featured a hot ending with a large surprise debut. Some would say that the promotion has peaked with their first show so far, but what a show it was.
 
Jeremy: NXT TakeOver: New York
Was there live. A beautiful show from top to bottom.

Peter: Wrestle Kingdom 13
I really enjoyed this show and was almost waiting for something to top it over the course of the year, and I can’t think of one that did. This goes to show that if you give wrestlers time to tell a story, they will excel. Eight title matches and eight title changes and some of the best matches this year, this show had it all. I find it funny the only non-title match (or any direct title implications) was Okada versus White and both are in title matches at Wrestle Kingdom 14.

GG: AEW Double Or Nothing
It was a fantastic show live and really the blue print in how to do a big show. There was a little bit for everyone; action, drama, great stories, and that one great surprise.

GG’s previous winners:
2018: NJPW Dominion
2017: G1 Special in USA Night 1
2016: Wrestle Kingdom 10
2015: Wrestle Kingdom 9 and WrestleMania 31
2014: SummerSlam
2013: SummerSlam
2012: TNA Destination X
2011: Elimination Chamber
2010: WrestleMania XXVI
2009: Backlash
2008: Wrestlemania 24

Match of the Year

Duan: Kota Ibushi Vs Jay White – G1 Climax 29 Final
I was lukewarm when I saw that this was the direction they were headed for the final, but once again they got the booking absolutely spot on. The dynamic was perfect, it was a career best performance from White, it was the right match to send Ibushi on his way to the main event at Wrestle Kingdom and it was the perfect capper for G1 Climax 29. The perfect example of how to run the classic babyface/heel script in 2019.

Duan’s previous winners:
2018: Kota Ibushi Vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – G1 Climax Final
2017: Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada – Wrestle Kingdom 11
2016: The Revival vs DIY – NXT TakeOver: Toronto
2015: John Cena vs Seth Rollins Vs Brock Lesnar – Royal Rumble
2014: John Cena vs Cesaro – February 17, 2014 Raw
2013: Brock Lesnar vs CM Punk – SummerSlam
2012: Triple H vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania 28
2011: Triple H vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXVII
2010: Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXVI
2009: Rey Mysterio vs Chris Jericho – The Bash

Alan: Shingo Takagi Vs Dragon Lee – Best of the Super Juniors Day 8
I LOVE THIS MATCH! Fired up, reckless violence in front of a white hot Korakuen crowd. An undefeated monster rampaging through the BOSJ coming up against the champion, looking to fend him off and prove he is worthy of the title he holds. Dragon Lee wrestled out of his skin and gave everything he had but on this night Shingo was simply unstoppable.

Alan’s previous winners:
2018: Kota Ibushi Vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – G1 Climax Final
2017: WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov – wXw 16 Carat Final
2016: Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – Wrestle Kingdom 10
2015: Shingo Takagi vs. Masaaki Mochizuki – Dragon Gate “Gate Of Destiny”
2014: Masato Yoshino vs Masaaki Mochizuki – January 16, 2014 and The Jimmys Vs The Millennials – September 23, 2014
2013: Kota Ibushi vs Shinsuke Nakamura – G1 Climax Day 4
2012: Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito – NJPW 40th Anniversary Show
2011: Shingo Takagi vs BxB Hulk – Dragon Gate: Pro Wrestling Festival In Kobe
2010: Susumu Yokosuka vs Shingo Takagi – Dragon Gate in Nottingham
2009: 2 Skinny Black Guys vs The Young Buck$ – PWG Threemendous 2
2008: Kenta Kobashi, KENTA, Akihiko Ito, & Atsushi Aoki vs. Kensuke Sasaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kento Miyahara, & Takashi Okita

Paul: Johnny Gargano Vs Adam Cole – NXT TakeOver: New York
Just perfect storytelling and the third fall on its own would be one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. I loved this match more than most, I think, but it’s exactly what I’m looking for in a pro wrestling match

Christopher: Johnny Gargano Vs Adam Cole – NXT TakeOver: New York
These two just meshed so beautifully, and this was the match that drew me in far more than any other in 2019. The beauty of it was that it was telling a super-smart story within the context of the history of the promotion. While there were a few more spectacular matches last year, there was no match that hit everything as deep as Gargano-Cole. 

Justin: Will Ospreay Vs Shingo Takagi – Best of the Super Juniors Final
Both Ospreay and Takagi are operating at an unreal level inside the ring this year, and in this match we saw the best from both. Takagi is a perfect foil for Ospreay. Takagi is shorter and more powerful while Ospreay is taller and much quicker. Ospreay attacks in-ring for “the New Generation” while Takagi represents all that’s effective about Showa-style and Heisei-style wrestling; a purveyor of the puroresu continuum. Whether they meant to or not, they told a story about technique and tradition versus progress and creativity. Match of the year, no doubt.

Damian: Cody Rhodes Vs Dustin Rhodes – AEW Double Or Nothing
In a year where match quality was so high, this match is the first thing that comes to my mind and the only one that just feels right to me as the winner. Two men who never have had anything close to a five star match before, in a brother vs brother match that almost never works, put on a classic based on emotion and pure storytelling. Cody’s entrance set the bar for a contest that had drama, bloodletting to a level not seen in many years, and a post-match that drove grown men (and the harshest critic in the room, my wife) to tears. Keep your 450s, shooting star presses, and flips. I’ll take emotion every time.

Jeremy: Will Ospreay Vs Kazuchika Okada – G1 Climax 29 Night Seven
Two of the best at their best to prove who’s best.

Peter: Will Ospreay Vs Kazuchika Okada – G1 Climax 29 Night Seven
This was a very close decision between this match and Ospreay vs Takagi. I just liked the Okada match better. 

GG: Will Ospreay Vs Kazuchika Okada – G1 Climax 29 Night Seven
The only thing better would’ve been if Ospreay eked one out against the legend. As it is, maybe they’re holding it off for 2020, which will make it even sweeter when he finally gets the big win.

GG’s previous winners:
2018: Kenny Omega Vs Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Dominion
2017: Kenny Omega Vs Kazuchika Okada – Dominion
2016: Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – Wrestle Kingdom 10
2015: Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs Kazuchika Okada – Wrestle Kingdom 9
2014: Adrian Neville vs Sami Zayn vs Tyler Breeze vs Tyson Kidd – NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way
2013: Daniel Bryan vs John Cena – SummerSlam
2012: Brock Lesnar vs John Cena – Extreme Rules
2011: CM Punk vs John Cena – Money In The Bank
2010: Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXVI
2009: Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXV
2008: Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels – No Mercy

Breakout Star

Duan: SANADA
I have always felt that there was some vital ingredient missing in Sanada that stopped him from connecting in the way that he should. I think he found it this year in his rivalry with Okada. The credibility he got from besting the great man in the G1 has made him live against anyone on the roster, and the subsequent slip up and heartbreak at King of Pro Wrestling has given fans something to identify with. New Japan has set him up for a big redemption story in 2020 and I expect that come this time next year we’re going to be talking about him in one of the main event matches for Wrestle Kingdom.

Duan’s previous winners:
2018: Jonathan Gresham
2017: The Young Bucks
2016: Rich Swann
2015: Kevin Owens
2014: Adrian Neville

Alan: Naoya Nomura
Even Nomura’s biggest fans couldn’t have foreseen him raising his game to the level he did in 2019. Proved himself to be main event class. The Triple Crown will surely be his in 2020.

Alan’s previous winners:
2018: #STRONGHEARTS
2017: WRESTLE-1
2016: Matt Riddle
2015: Will Ospreay
2014: AJ Styles

Paul: Maxwell Jacob Friedman
For fans of MLW, this was no surprise but MJF got a chance to perform on a big stage for the first time and made the most of it. Maybe the best pure heel the sport has seen in years.

Christopher: SANADA
I’ve loved him for ages, and this year, he had a BIG year, and looked great the entire way through. 

Justin: Matt Riddle
He is one of the few wrestlers who successfully transitioned from the indie scene to the WWE ecosystem without really ever losing momentum. He’s already main event’d a Smackdown, for crying out loud. His best work of the year was somewhat recently, against Finn Balor at NXT Takeover in November. If Riddle is able to continue working with wrestlers that have a bit more experience than him, like Balor, I expect him to be a serious player on regular WWE television in 2020.

Damian: Cody Rhodes
Uh oh, I must be on AEW’s payroll! Seriously though, the man who was nothing more than a mid-carder in WWE stepped up his game in every facet this year. From promoter, to excellent promo, to being the biggest babyface in a new promotion, Cody has absolutely reinvented himself into a star and the face of AEW. It takes a lot of balls to bet on yourself to the level that Cody has and he felt determined to prove it in the last few years but it wasn’t until 2019 that he showed the world that he can talk you into a match or a building.  

Jeremy: Will Ospreay
The man only needed 10 months to prove he’s on track to eventually beat Ibushi and Okada and be the top guy in wrestling in 2020.

Peter: Rhea Ripley/Tessa Blanchard
Based on the last few weeks, I have to call this one a tie. Ripley really stood out for me starting with the build to Survivor Series and winning the NXT title a little while later. Originally, I had Tessa winning this in a landslide based on what she’s done on Impact and with AAA as well. At the end of the year however, I can’t choose one over the other.

GG: Rhea Ripley
For a lot of the year, I wondered where she was because I loved her potential. And then, the last quarter of 2019 was hers. Her beating Shayna Baszler on the last live NXT show of the year was one of the greatest moments of the wrestling year.

GG’s previous winners:
2018: Will Ospreay
2017: Andrade Cien Almas
2016: Jeff Cobb
2015: Timothy Thatcher
2014: The Usos

Who’s Next

Duan: Keith Lee
It might seem a strange choice to pick the 35-year-old Lee who really already had his breakout years back on the indies in 2017, but for me, he has been by far the biggest success story to come out of the Wednesday night wars on the NXT side. After more than a year of WWE bumbling his push, when the pressure was on from AEW and they needed stars to carry the brand, they let him be the Keith Lee we know and love and lo and behold it’s caught on huge. The crowd is with him, the hard work is done, now they just need to roll with it.

Duan’s previous winners:
2018: The Rascalz
2017: Nikki Cross
2016: Pete Dunne
2015: Chad Gable
2014: Finn Balor
2013: Seth Rollins
2012: Bray Wyatt
2011: Justin Gabriel
2010: Dolph Ziggler

Alan: Luke Jacobs and Ethan Allen
The Young Guns, two hard as nails lads from the North of England who seem intent on grabbing the UK scene by the throat. Their fight against one another at Tetsujin is must see. They’re going to get a lot of opportunities in British promotions that are in dire need of new blood.

Alan’s previous winners:
2018: Scotty Davis
2017: Darby Allin
2016: Takuya Nomura
2015: El Lindaman
2014: Big R Shimizu
2013: Kalisto
2012: Dean Ambrose and Yuji Okabayashi
2011: Manabu Soya and Takumi Soya
2010: Tetsuya Naito

Paul: Sammy Guevara
I had never heard of him before the AEW debut show and 11 weeks later, he’s one of the weekly highlights for me. I totally see this guy’s upside as Eddie Guerrero with a little bit of Syxx mixed in.

Christopher: Rhea Ripley
She’s got star written all over her, and as NXT needs to find the replacement for Shayna, and Rhea has been so perfectly positioned for the role. She’s got the look, has improved in the ring, and has managed to get herself over with the booking she’s managed.

Justin: Jake Atlas
I was lucky enough to see Atlas live earlier in the year, in April, and later in December, but what I want to point out here is how sharply Atlas improved in just those few months. He looked twice as good in the ring as when I’d seen him previously, his arms looked like they’d doubled in size, his charisma was through the roof. Atlas recently signed a deal with WWE and I can’t help but think this guy is going to knock it out of the park in 2020.

Damian: Keith Lee
Prior to last month, I would have said Darby Allin as I feel he’s positioned for a big 2020 but Keith Lee made a great impression at Survivor Series and has now been one of the featured stars on NXT since. Going toe-to-toe with Roman Reigns, pinning Seth Rollins and having instantly “gif”-able moments with Adam Cole and Finn Balor, Keith Lee seems poised to skip the NXT title and go straight to the main roster as a pushed talent. With Vince McMahon still in charge, Keith’s Lee’s size and ability could see him go straight to the top of Raw or Smackdown in 2020 with more eyeballs on him than ever before. Whether or not the booking is his favor is the question.  

Jeremy: Keith Lee
My secret thought is that he wins the Royal Rumble and challenges for a Title at WrestleMania. But the ceiling is limited only by how much jet fuel is on the rocket WWE straps to him.

Peter: Keith Lee
This is a similar pick as Rhea Ripley where the build to Survivor Series really shined a light on Lee. His performance at Survivor Series really made him someone to watch in 2020 and perhaps a high profile match during WrestleMania weekend will see us bask in his glory.

GG: Montez Ford
Nothing against his partner Angelo Dawkins, but to me, Montez Ford has an opportunity to be the Shawn Michaels of this tag team. In a day and age when pro wrestlers are as athletic as ever, Ford is in the upper echelon when it comes to level of athlete. I don’t know if WWE sees much in him as a single and my guess is that he’ll be in the tag team for all of 2020, but I would love to see them give him a chance.

GG’s previous winners:
2018: A-Kid
2017: Jungle Boy (Jack Perry)
2016: Karl Fredericks
2015: Jeff Cobb
2014: Rusev
2013: Big E. Langston
2012: Antonio Cesaro and Wade Barrett
2011: Brodus Clay
2010: Dolph Ziggler

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