Gregg Sussman’s 2015 WWE ‘Smarky’ Awards
It’s been, uh, a year for WWE in 2015. A year that saw the ratings drop as low as they have been in nearly 20 years. A year, in which their developmental brand, NXT, became more buzz worthy than their main product. A year in which the chosen one was reigned with boos in Philadelphia in January, before becoming champion to a thunderous ovation, in Philadelphia, in December. It’s almost as if WWE has come full circle as we wrap up the year.
Last week on Raw, WWE held their annual Slammy Awards. The WWE’s year take on a prestigious awards ceremony, featured the normal cringe worthy comedy as in most years. While the awards of course mean nothing, it’s interesting to note that the Slammy winners are one of the few things that are not scripted throughout the year. From everything that I can gather, the winners are entirely legitimate. It’s why Daniel Bryan was the Superstar of the Year two years ago, over John Cena. It’s why this year a heel was both the Superstar of the Year (Seth Rollins) and Diva of the Year (Nikki Bella). As I said, the awards mean nothing, and are just a gimmick to try and get viewers to tune in to a “special” episode of Raw.
The biggest takeaway though from this year’s awards, wasn’t a surprising victory or the crappy commentary, but rather the lack of appearances from the winners. This should be a huge sign to WWE that they are doing something wrong. Instead, it will just be a sign saying that they need to throw more money at Brock Lesnar to show up more. Lesnar, The Rock, Sting, Triple H, and Cena were all winners last Monday night that weren’t in attendance. Their lack of appearances just made it seem like the big stars weren’t around and won’t be around until after the Royal Rumble when they normally show up. It’s the same cycle we have talked about ad nausea over the past several months. The younger guys that main event shows from April through December, are not considered big enough to main event the biggest show of the year. WWE is entirely blind if they don’t see that. Yes, Cena will be back on Raw to face Alberto Del Rio in a match we have seen 800,323 times before, but that doesn’t solve all of the problems. Realizing that you currently have no one to face Brock Lesnar at the biggest show of the year, should also be a major highlight to the issues.
The Slammy Awards may have popped Raw last week, but in order to see ratings sustainably rise to, through and past WrestleMania season, we have to see WWE smarten up. And with that, I issue SportsGrid’s very first WWE awards naturally entitled the Smarkys. I’m an admitted smart mark and I assume all of you reading this fall into the same category. These are our awards, from one smark to an audience of many.
Superstar of the Year - Kevin Owens
It’s been an incredibly year for Owens. After years of success wrestling for independent promotions (most notably Ring of Honor), Owens debuted last December in NXT. He was originally thought to be signed to the same type of contract like some of the newer NXT acquisitions, like Samoa Joe, James Storm, Johnny Gargano, and Rhyno. These were wrestlers that were around to help put over the new talent, sell some live event tickets to pop the diehards, and be a flag bearer for WWE’s version of an independent company. After winning the NXT Championship earlier in the year, Owens made shocking Raw debut in June. Originally thought to be just a marketing tool for that week’s NXT: TakeOver event, perhaps the more shocking part of his debut was that he was put right into a feud with John Cena. We haven’t seen a debut against a high profile superstar like Owens, since Chris Jericho debuted against The Rock in 1999. Unlike Jericho, though, Owens would go on to beat Cena in his first pay per view match, a legitimate match of the year candidate. Owens never returned back full time to NXT and wound up becoming the most watchable part of Raw all year long. He would later win the Intercontinental Championship, before losing it to Dean Ambrose earlier this month. Owens has all of the smart marks behind him, the mic skills to rival any wrestler in the company and the athletic ability to back it up. The only thing holding back Owens in the corporate eyes is his weight. Hopefully WWE ignores that and listens to their audience in 2016, and K.O. gets the opportunity to continue be a true main event talent. A few weeks ago, rumors swirled that Lesnar vs. Owens was being planned for WrestleMania. A smark can only dream. Fight Owens Fight indeed.
Tag Team Of The Year – The New Day
After debuting as a crappy babyface stable that “just likes to have fun”, the New Day looked headed to midcard obscurity. Instead, their natural charisma turned them into the most entertaining stable currently in WWE. They were turned heel and instantly found their groove. They are playing hyped up versions of themselves, exactly the type of characters which have thrived forever in WWE (rather than stupid gimmicky characters). From Xavier Woods hysterical trombone, to Kofi Kingston’s amazing dancing clap to the ring and of course Big E’s pitch perfect gyrations, the New Day combination is vital to the E in WWE. They have made the tag team division relevant again, having entertaining feuds with the returning Dudleys, Usos, Lucha Dragons and Prime Time Players. WWE knows what they have in the New Day and has continually had them in multiple segments across the three hours of Raw. Both Stephanie McMahon and Triple H have been involved in the New Day segments too, so it’s clear that how well recognized they are within the company. I can’t wait for the debuts of Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady to see Enzo go head to head on the mic with the New Day and firmly establish Enzo and Cass as major players in the tag team division. It’s bound to happen and that’s thanks to the renaissance the New day has brought.
Diva of the Year – Sasha Banks
Since these awards consist of both WWE and NXT time, Banks is the obvious winner. Sasha turned from the other woman with Charlotte, to the undisputed best women’s wrestler in WWE. She can have a great match with anyone and an incredible match with others (we’ll get to that match in a few). When Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch made their debuts this summer they reinvigorated the divas division, with the “Divas Revolution”. Even if the revolution fizzled quickly and wasn’t exactly what many of us were hoping for, there was clearly an added focus to the women’s division. With all of the success of Ronda Rousey in the UFC, it was only natural for WWE to try and capitalize on her success. Of course it took them WAY too long to do this, but #GiveDivasAChance finally worked. The Divas, who previously were relegated to four minute matches, where nobody knew who was the babyface and who was the heel, now had more opportunities. The matches were longer, the storylines clearer and the division as a whole simply were better. The obvious direction for WrestleMania has Charlotte taking on Sasha Banks, with Charlotte as the heel and Banks as the face. There isn’t a WWE show that goes by without the crowd chanting “We Want Sasha”. Hell, WWE turned this into an aborted storyline with Natalya and Brie Bella randomly chanting this in matches. Banks has a natural charisma, likeability, and insane wrestling ability to be the star of the divas division for years to come. Along with Charlotte, Paige, and Bayley the divas division is alive and kicking, like perhaps never before.
Match Of the Year – Sasha Banks vs. Bayley, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn
As alluded to, there isn’t a more talented performer right now in WWE than Sasha Banks. The match with Bayley in Brooklyn was one of the best matches I have ever seen, no matter the gender. Banks and Bayley tore the house down at Barclays Center in an epic clash. When people complain about predictability being a problem within WWE, this match once again proved, that is simply not the case. Everyone watching knew that the true babyface underdog, Bayley, was going to win the match and it didn’t change a single thing The clash was epic, culminating in both ladies crying in the middle of the ring, being embraced by real life besties Charlotte and Lynch. The match landed Banks and Bayley universal praise and led to a rematch a couple of months later, in an Iron Man match in the main event of another NXT TakeOver special event. On a weekend, which featured WWE’s second biggest event of the year, on a card that featured Kevin Owens and Finn Balor in a ladder match, it was the women that stole the weekend. The match was unlike any women’s match I have ever seen and is a testament to the work these ladies constantly put in. There will be a day that women main event PPVs on the main roster and quite honestly when that time comes, it should be Sasha Banks vs. Bayley. The chemistry that these two have is off the charts and unexplainable. It is the match I have watched back most often on the WWE Network and probably worth the price of admission ($9.99 of course) alone.
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