Hello again, and welcome back to the 2018 NXT Year-End Awards Prognostications and Picks Party. I hope you enjoyed the short break, but the wrestling business never sleeps, and so we must continue on with the remaining four categories before we get to NXT Match of the Year. But before we do that, let’s review the four awards I covered in the last blog and my personal votes for each:
NXT TakeOver of the Year – Chicago II
NXT Tag Team of the Year – The Undisputed Era
NXT Breakout Star of the Year – Lacey Evans
NXT Future Star of the Year – Candice LeRae
Okay. Now, on with the show…
NXT Rivalry of the Year
#GarganoCiampa (Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa)
#SaneBaszler (Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler)
#AleisterAttack (Aleister Black/Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa/Nikki Cross)
#GarganoAlmas (Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas)
#ERAMoustache (Moustache Mountain vs. Undisputed ERA)
#MoonBaszler (Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler)
#RicochetDream (Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream)
This might be the easiest award for me to pick in the entire list. A couple of these nominees are unimportant, so let’s eliminate Moon/Baszler and ERA/Moustache right off the hop. They were both too short and didn’t build into anything that lasted too long in 2018.
Sane/Baszler had a decent run, but aside from a brief title reign for Kairi, Baszler dominated for most of their program. Ricochet/Dream was a fun build and led up to a great match between two fabulous competitors, but afterwards, it didn’t really grow into anything more. Mostly because you can’t have two faces (wrestling lingo for “good guys”) have too long of a rivalry.
A look at the remaining options says it all, as they all involve Johnny Gargano. But as it goes, where there’s Gargano, there’s Tommaso Ciampa.
Remember in my Match of the Year blog from last year, when I basically said Gargano was one of the best NXT had to offer? This held true through the entirety of 2018. After the betrayal by Ciampa at TakeOver: Chicago 2017, Gargano went on a mission to win the NXT title. He battled Andrade “Cien” Almas four times for the championship, but on the final attempt, Ciampa made his inevitable return from injury and cost Gargano both the title and his NXT career. This rekindled the fire between the two that continues now into 2019. Gargano was reinstated after beating Ciampa in an Unsanctioned Match at TakeOver: New Orleans, but then was beaten by Ciampa in a brutal Chicago Street Fight. That was only the first half of the year for these two.
Gargano was out for a spell afterwards and Ciampa got an eventual shot at the NXT title against Aleister Black. Johnny Wrestling came back and tried to interfere to cost Ciampa the win, but he ended up hitting Black with the title on accident. Ciampa took advantage by knocking Gargano out of the ring and getting the cover for the victory. Gargano’s obsession with vengeance resulted in the worst possible outcome. Ciampa was now atop the NXT ladder.
Eventually, Black would be attacked outside the NXT Arena and an investigation would occur that revealed Johnny as the attacker, setting up a quick rivalry between the two. Of course, Ciampa couldn’t stay out of Johnny’s business and poked at his pride, getting him to agree to things like having a cage match vs. Black.
My point is this: All roads lead to Gargano and Ciampa, no matter what happens. Their deep history carries NXT to new heights every week, and no other storyline or rivalry in recent years has held a candle to the genius of their saga.
Boots’ pick for NXT Rivalry of the Year: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
NXT Male Competitor of the Year
Any one of these wrestleboys would be worthy of this award, but alas, we can only vote for one to win. But enough dilly-dallying, let’s get to it.
Andrade “Cien” Almas started 2018 as the NXT Champion and looked stronger as time went on, but he moved on to bigger things in the WWE just after Wrestlemania.
The Velveteen Dream is a 23-year-old prodigy and it shows. He hasn’t lost any momentum since his start and even current champ Tommaso Ciampa has given him high praise at recent live shows. Unfortunately, The Dream came up short in a number of his marquee matches, but he’s on this list for a reason, and will most certainly have a great 2019.
Ricochet and Adam Cole both held the newly-minted North American for a spell and had some great successes. Pete Dunne has been on a tear as the WWE United Kingdom champion and shows no signs of slowing down. Aleister Black, Gargano, and Ciampa were all involved in the NXT Title picture in a major way.
There is absolutely no wrong pick for this award, but for me, the honor goes to a man who beat 5 other men for his first North American Title, led his friends to glory in the Tag division, took part in the hellacious War Games match, and made a promise that there would be gold for his entire faction in 2019. Argue if you like, but Cole spent 2018 at or near a top-level, and there’s no disputing the man’s influence in NXT.
Boots’ pick for NXT Male Competitor of the Year: Adam Cole (Bay Bay)
NXT Female Competitor of the Year
There’s no mistake that all of these women had a great 2018, but the Women’s division definitely was left needing a refresh, this past year. Ember Moon was their version of Andrade Almas with her own run as the NXT Women’s Champion, however brief it may have been. She then went up to the big leagues after Wrestlemania. Belair rose to prominence and is shining brightly, but she looks to have a much stronger 2019.
Cross and Sane both had shots at the Women’s Title, but Cross just couldn’t reach the top of the mountain in NXT. Still, her hard work paid off and earned her a WWE spot. Sane had a short two-month reign as the champion in the Fall, but lost it in her first major defense at WWE Evolution.
These four grapplers had good years, but none of them compare to the domination that Shayna Baszler inflicted in 2018. She beat Ember Moon at TakeOver; New Orleans and held it till August where she lost to Kairi Sane, but won it back 9 weeks later and hasn’t let go ever since. She battled the best competition that they could throw at her, including Lacey Evans, Dakota Kai, Moon, Sane, Cross, and whoever else decided to step up. Not only that, but her fellow Horsewomen of MMA – Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir – have recently joined her side and the trio are currently keeping the rest of the Women’s division down with brute force.
You might get your shot and you might get your licks in, but once Baszler locks in that Kirafuda Clutch, she’ll give you no other choice than to tap, nap, or snap.
Boots’ pick for Female Competitor of the Year: Shayna Baszler
Editor’s Note: You should watch WWE Evolution if you have the means to do so. The ladies crushed it at that event and it should be held in the highest regard, especially as the first-ever event of its kind for the WWE.
Now, before I move on to the final award of Overall Competitor of the Year, I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the NXT Superstars that are MIA since making the jump to the WWE. A number of them left NXT with a ton of momentum, only to see them squandered and left in limbo under Grandpa Vinny’s rule. It’s a tragedy, and I want to honor the legacies of these NXT greats before the wrestling world writes them off:
Peyton Royce & Billie Kay, The IIconics
Sasha Banks, but when she was “The Boss” and the audience gave a shit and she wasn’t trying to be “Bayley II: Bayley’s BFF.”
And finally, here we go…
NXT Overall Competitor of the Year
I’ve already covered these Superstars in their respective Male and Female lists, so I won’t get too deep into that nonsense on this one. Of course, the natural way to go on this would be to pit the Male and Female winners against each other and select the one that made a bigger impact. Bingo-bango, yadda yadda yadda, Bob’s your uncle.
But I’m not going to do that.
First off, as much as I’m a HUGE fan of the Women’s division, I can’t give this award to their candidates. As I said before, they were in a rebuilding stage for most of the year and just didn’t have the same “oomph” as their predecessors, but there’s hope with stars like Bianca Belair, Candice LeRae, Mia Yim, and many others. They’re on the verge of another big surge for 2019 and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do.
Editor’s Note: Vince, if you waste Lacey Evans’ potential, I will never forgive you.
So it comes down to the boys, and while I gave the Male award to a great competitor in Adam Cole for his accomplishments and growth in 2018, I don’t think that earns him enough to give him the Overall honors. You gotta have something more. You’ve gotta build a legacy. You’ve gotta take the fans on a journey that is above and beyond, and make them believe in what you do. You have to take the NXT brand, strap it to your back and tell the roster “I’ve got this,” and bring them to new heights. In the past, it’s been superstars like Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, the NXT Horsewomen (Bayley/Lynch/Banks/Charlotte), and a few others.
This year, one man came out, claimed that he only needed one shot to accomplish his goals, and did the thing he promised to do, and it was all very much to the ire of the NXT fanbase. His biggest rival stepped up to face him and had the NXT Universe’s support, but aside from one match, he just couldn’t get the job done on multiple occasions. Time after time, chance after chance, rival after rival, and this man still remains the brand’s top guy.
His saga in NXT began years ago, and the fans have been enraptured with him every step of the way. Through tag team struggles and victories, through injuries, through defining moments and major successes and outright betrayals, we’ve all given him every ounce of our attention because he IS the top guy, and this IS his NXT, and when he says he is the greatest sports-entertainer of all-time, you can’t help but consider it as a possible fact, even if only for a moment.
He has the skills, the will, the attitude, and all the heart you could ask for… even if it is the blackest heart in NXT.
Boots’ pick for NXT Overall Competitor of the Year: Tomasso Ciampa
There you have it, folks. That’s my roundup for eight of the nine NXT Year-End Awards for 2018. Next up will be my deep dive into the Match of the Year nominees and my final rankings for that list of fifte… FIFTEEN?!?! Jesus fuck, that’s gonna take a while. I’d better get to it, then.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Hope you enjoy my BS about wrestling and whatever else you might stumble across on this blog o’ mine. Maybe check out some of my other stuff like:
The Top Ten Games of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/Wii Console Generation
My 2017 NXT Match of the Year Final Rankings
…or perhaps a couple of my individual blogs about my Top Ten Video Games of All-Time:
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Have a lovely day/night. Keep it chill, everybody.