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Now That’s What I Call Wrestling #6: The Backdated Editions – 1st Annual TheBigBoot Awards

It’s a new year and TheBigBoot is back and ready to rumble. February brings many things: snow, Valentines’ Day, the Fifth Round Proper of the F.A. Cup, and once every four years we get February 29th – ‘Leap Day’. In the world of journalism it also brings ‘Year End Awards’. Historically this was because of magazine deadlines and the time needed to compile votes. It is a tradition that continues to this day in the world of print, in publications related to a whole range of sports, hobbies, pass-times including those magazines and newsletters dedicated to that weird and wonderful thing we call professional wrestling…

Author’s Note: Please note that the following several editions of NTWICW were written several months ago. Besides, if Corey Maclin can host a ‘Best of 2006’ show on Memphis Wrestling without featuring a single match from 2006 then I can celebrate the best of 2008 right now. Thank you for the continued support and I look forward to writing more instalments of this column over the next year.   

Now That’s What I Call Wrestling #6: The Backdated Editions – 1st Annual TheBigBoot Awards

“I’m back,
And I’m better than ever.
Got a knack

For making things better.
Face facts,

‘cause your opinion don’t matter.
This maniac

Is gonna step on whomever.”

(I’m Back, WWE Anthology)

It’s a new year and TheBigBoot is back and ready to rumble. February brings many things: snow, Valentines’ Day, the Fifth Round Proper of the F.A. Cup, and once every four years we get February 29th – ‘Leap Day’. In the world of journalism it also brings ‘Year End Awards’. Historically this was because of magazine deadlines and the time needed to compile votes. It is a tradition that continues to this day in the world of print, in publications related to a whole range of sports, hobbies, pass-times including those magazines and newsletters dedicated to that weird and wonderful thing we call professional wrestling. Even in the world of cyberspace the February tradition. On the 15th of February voting closed for 2008 Talk Wrestling & Wrestling101 WWE / TNA Awards on this site. So in what may become an annual tradition, I present the first ever TheBigBoot Awards…

Card Of The Year 2008: WWE No Way Out (17th February, 2008)

2008 was a year with its fair share of entertaining events, with WWE in particular delivering some very good wrestling cards. Say what you will about the TV product but this was a cracking year for PPVs from WWE especially in the first six months. In an attempt to shake things up a bit (and, if rumours are to be believed, to surprise the hardcore fans) the first three pay-per-views of 2008 succeeded in giving us one big surprise: Cena returning, Mayweather/Big Show and Orton retaining. Of those events WrestleMania was the biggest; No Way Out was the most consistent.

Often in wrestling, as in life, an idea that looks good on paper will fall apart in practice. In this case what on paper looked to be gimmick overkill (two Elimination Chamber matches in one night) turned out to be an entertaining six match pay-per-view with none of the wasted time or frivolities often used to pad out a PPV.

Chavo Guerrero/C.M. Punk for the ECW Title was a good opener with some creative counters, one of the better matches of their series even if the audience did decide to cheer the heel and boo the (supposed) babyface.

The SmackDown! Elimination Chamber match drew mixed reviews amongst hardcore fans, but I’m in the group who enjoyed it even if it did make anyone not named The Undertaker or Batista look a little weak. From the faulty graphics to Ranjin Singh’s legitimate injury it was a match that could have easily taken place in WCW. Fortunately, the action itself had a nice ‘retro’ feel to it as well with two superhero babyfaces (The Undertaker and Batista), two Monster Heels (Big Daddy V and The Great Khali), a veteran (Finlay) and an up-and-coming cocky heel (MVP) and everyone playing to type. If there had ever been an Elimination Chamber match in a promotion like WCCW or USWA it would have looked something like this.

For as much criticism as Rey Mysterio took at the time for risking further injury (he had suffered a biceps injury during a tour of South America) by working the World Title match with Edge, the bout itself was about as good as any five minute match where one of the workers only had one healthy arm could be. Big Show’s surprise return got a healthy pop and, regardless of how some of their subsequent angles might have gone, the initial spot involving himself and Floyd Mayweather Jr. achieved its objectives by providing a memorable moment and simultaneously generating some mainstream publicity perfectly.

The WWE Title Match between Randy Orton and John Cena was a really solid title match, even if not as good as their match at the previous year’s SummerSlam. It marked Orton’s best in-ring heel performance of the year (he’s had better moments of heelishness outside it) from ruthlessly exploiting  Cena’s injured arm to countering a backdrop with a tight headlock (which was timed perfectly to draw boos from the live audience) to  pretending to be injured in an attempt to coax the referee to count him out. Then when that failed he went for Plan B: viciously attacking an unsuspecting Cena before trying to win the match on a count-out. Then there was the slap that ended it all.

Topping things off, the Raw Elimination Chamber was much better when I re-watched it a second time thanks to a strong opening period between Chris Jericho (who looked really solid throughout) and Shawn Michaels, The Umaga Show (as ‘The Samoan Bulldozer’ was once again made to look like a star, particularly his was elimination following each of the babyface’s finishers) and the climatic finish where Jeff Hardy was put over strong before doing the job to Triple H.

Unfortunately, for some reason Ric Flair vs. Ronnie Garvin weren’t as good as their matches twenty years ago… But then again I suppose you can’t have everything!

Honourable Mention: WWE Royal Rumble; WWE WrestleMania XXIV; WWE Backlash; WWE One Night Stand; WWE Unforgiven; TNA Bound For Glory IV; WWE No Mercy

Moment Of The Year 2008: Ric Flair Retires (29th–31st March, 2008)

There were some entertaining moments throughout 2008 but none came close to Flair’s emotional send-off, an event that made some otherwise cynical internet posters sit back, enjoy themselves and celebrate the career of ‘The Nature Boy’ (and in honour of Naitch’s retirement I’ve even named an award after him). From a historical viewpoint the only event of equal significance was Blue Panther losing his mask to Vilano V at CMLL’s 7th Anniversary Show (that may be more historically significant since a retirement can always be undone but we have all seen Panther’s face now).

‘Nature Boy’ Ric’s speech at the Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony was epic in both its length and the emotion it generated. The retirement match itself (against Shawn Michaels at WresleMania XXIV) received somewhat mixed reviews with some calling it an instant classic and others feeling it was better than Flair’s usual matches (at that point in his career) but still no ‘Match Of The Year Contender’. For the record, I enjoyed it as a spectacle but wouldn’t go all the way to calling it the five star classic some did. The most memorable part was how well Naitch’s retirement was booked: Flair has been subjected to someunflattering booking over the last eighteen years but WrestleMania was one last chance to be ‘The Man’ and he was treated like a superstar.Say what you will about him and his selfishness over the years, but on that night Shawn Michaels went out there and did his job – this was all about Flair. As memorable as those two nights might have been, what really made it for me was the following night’s Raw which built up to the final segment in which Flair was given a send-off befitting of his thirty plus year career. The sight of J.J. Dillon in a WWE ring is certainly not something I ever expected to see again.

It is safe to say, that some (in fact many) felt Flair had hung on too long. Whether his career should have ended two, five, ten or twelve years earlier was irrelevant on the night. To paraphrase a sayings this was about paying homage to ‘The Nature Boy’. Even if you were not a massive Flair fan at the time, if you were a fan of Ric Flair & The Four Horsemen or even just a fan of 1980s NWA in general then it was a special moment that marked the end of an era as the guy who dominated the Heavyweight title for that entire decade finally hung up his boots. Plus anything that gets Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat some time on TV is good enough for me. Hopefully he doesn’t ruin it by making a comeback. It is hard to imagine anything he does from now on ever reaching those heights.

Honourable Mention: John Cena’s Surprise Return (WWE Royal Rumble, 27th January, 2008); Blue Panther Unmasks (CMLL 75 ANIVERSARIO, 19th September 2008)

Move Of The Year 2008: Valiente – Valiente Special

In an era of high-spots it becomes increasingly difficult to be impressed. After you’ve seen a springboard 630 somersault backbreaker from the top of a Cage where do you go from there?

WWE had some impressive moves from both extremes. On the one hand, the high-flying Evan Bourne’s graceful Shooting Star Press was used as a major selling point in his act (even winning The Slammy for ‘Best Finishing Maneuver’) in part because we don’t see highspots like that in WWE everyday in the same way we do on the Independent scene. On the other, The Big Show (who trained as a boxer during his December 2006 to January 2008 hiatus) right-handed hook is about as basic, but effective looking, as it gets. Show’s knockout victory over The Undertaker at No Mercy marked the highlight of his year (even more so than the Mayweather feud which initiated him using the move). As some people have pointed out, the problem with the move is that if Show can KO someone with a single punch why doesn’t he go for it straight away? Then again a lot of those same people ask why Bourne grabs his legs during the SSP when it doesn’t add to the impact? I don’t know the answer to either. Let’s just call this the It may or may not make sense but I like it award… 

In the end the Award goes to Valiente’s Valiente Special – the smoothest (and most dangerous-looking) variation on a ringside dive I have seen in a long time. For those who haven’t seen it, it is a double-jump springboard blind moonsault. In a world of flippy-floppy ‘vanilla midgets’ (as Kevin Nash would no doubt call them) what makes it so impressive is that unlike skinny guys performing multiple-rotation flips at your local leisure centre, he’s not a small man and his heavy-set appearance offsets a surprising agility as he performs this incredible dive to the world famous floor of Arena Mexico. To date, there are three separate versions of the move but ‘El Dado Atomico’ performs all three with an air gracefulness that belies his physique.

Honourable Mention: The Big Show – Knock Out Punch; Evan Bourne – Shooting Star Press

Match Of The Year 2008: Kenta Kobashi, KENTA, Atsushi Aoki & Akihiko Ito vs. Kensuke Sasaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Takashi Okita & Kento Miyahara – Survival Tag Match (SEM/Kensuke Office Take The Dream Vol. 6, 17/08/08)

Time constraints meant I didn’t get the chance to see much outside WWE and TNA in ‘real time’ this year…  looking at nomination lists all over the internet it looks like I wasn’t the only one! So following a frantic period of trying to catch up on some of the best stuff recommended to me I have gone through what were the best matches  I saw in 2008. It is a tough year to choose because, whilst there have been plenty of bouts I enjoyed, I’m not sure if there was one stand-out match for me.

That is not to say it was a bad year by any stretch and before I go any further I need to mention some matches that just missed out on my list. There was some quality stuff on free TV featuring the usual suspects (particularly The Undertaker vs. Batista from the 25/04/08  SmackDown!, which was one of the best TV main events I’ve seen this year and one I considered) and the big matches on PPV delivered more often than not (including the climatic battle between Jeff Jarrett and Kurt Angle in the main event of TNA’s Bound For Glory IV on 12/10/08). Refreshingly, there was some nice WCWish stuff in the mid-card of both companies (especially at the start and end of the year) but very little that left a lasting impression – matches like Matt Hardy’s clashes with Shelton Benjamin (Great American Bash, 26/07/08); John Morrison (ECW, 26/08/08) and Matt Hardy vs. Finlay (ECW, 11/11/08) which are all worth watching, particularly for the Manchester crowd’s reactions in the last one. For the second year in a row , WWE’s annual Royal Rumble match (27/01/08) was one of the best bouts of the year. Perhaps, the most brutal female match I saw Meiko Satomura (who wore an eye-patch to the ring pre-match) making her comeback (sidelined with a broken orbital bone since 2007) against the still-fearsome-looking Aja Kong (SENDAI 10/26/08) featuring some hard-hitting, striking and power-moves leading to the unhappy ending. It was also a year which saw some good women’s wrestling, in both McMahonland and Planet Jarrett, with special mention going to Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong – No DQ (TNA Final Resolution, 06/01/08 & TNA iMPACT!, 10/01/08) like the female version of the WCW series between Sting and Vader in late 90’s brawl-around-ringside WWF, and Beth Phoenix vs. Melina – ‘I Quit!’ (WWE One Night Stand, 01/06/08). This year’s One Night Stand (renamed ‘Extreme Rules’ for 2009 in keeping with current PG direction) also produced an intense Stretcher Match between Shawn Michaels and Batista and a memorable TLC Match between The Undertaker and Edge. Speaking of gimmicks, Kurt Angle deserves another mention here for working a good gimmick and stealing the show in a cringe inducing Last Man Standing Match versus an aggressive AJ Styles (TNA Hard Justice, 10/08/08) and getting a decent Falls Count Anywhere Match out of  Abyss (TNA Turning Point 2008, 09/11/08) with a strong cowardly heel performance (even going so far as hiding behind fans) and some perfectly timed Ariel moves (both included his now famous running somersault centon from the stage) from the Olympian, who drew mixed reviews from his match against Yuji Nagata (NJPW vs. TNA Global iMPACT!, 17/01/08). He also had his usual good matches with former ECK (Edge, Christian, Kurt) partner Christian at Final Resolution (06/01/08) and Against All Odds (10/02/08).
In terms of actual MOTYCs there were some quality matches in all the major wrestling markets, most obviously the wrestling capitals of the North America, Japan and Mexico. For the second year running, Undertaker went out there on the ‘Grandest Stage in Sports Entertainment’ and stole the show with another MOTYC against Edge. Unlike last year they were permitted to go last and took the fans on a ride that played off both their characters (‘Taker as the indestructible Monster Babyface; Edge as ‘the ultimate opportunist’), the World Title and its value to the champion (an increasingly desperate Edge) and challenger and, of course, Undi’s now legendary WrestleMania ‘Streak’ in a dramatic contest that slowly built to an equally dramatic (if predictable) finish. This was arguably WWE’s best straight wrestling match of the year and fittingly it was in the top spot on their biggest, most important show of the ear.

Interestingly enough, the best gimmick match also came from WWE in the form of the Ladder Match from No Mercy in which a battered and bloody Chris Jericho entered his best singles performance in years, despite suffering a chipped tooth in the process. Although Ladder Matches might be inherently dangerous, it seemed as if they made an effort to concentrate on stuff which looked like it hurt (and no doubt did) rather than needless stunts. The match served as a throw-back to the pre-TLC era bouts between Michaels and Razor Ramon where the ladder itself was the dangerous weapon rather than just another prop (often amongst many) for setting up increasingly intricate spots. Reminiscent of SummerSlam ’95 they started with by teasing some finishers and the ladder didn’t make its way into the ring until almost five minutes into the match. In fact the match, played off several other matches, with a variation of the finishes from Jericho’s Last Man Standing Match with Triple H (Fully Loaded 2000) and that year’s ‘Money In The Bank’ (WrestleMania XXIV). Emphasising the substance over style of the match, Jericho’s facials were particularly good as his expression changed  from cocky to cowardly heel when he realised ‘HBK’ was about to tip over the ladder he was on. They even managed to work a tug-‘o’-war spot into the finish as both pulled at the unattached World Title before the ambigious ending, which left it up to the viewer to decide if the finish was intentional or a lucky accident for the winner.

Then there were matches like former LWO member Villaño V vs. Blue Panther ‘Máscara contra Máscara’ (CMLL 75 ANIVERSARIO, 19/09/08) which, though not the best match from a purely physical viewpoint, deserves a mention here because of the storytelling, historical significance (Panther losing one of the most famous masks in Mexico after thirty years) and insane crowd heat it generated. Wrestling-wise, Panther arguably had better matches throughout the year (such as contra fellow Maestro Atlantis, billed as a ‘Celebration of 25 Year of Atlantis’ (when Panther was still masked) and against Averno in (unmasked) Panther’s ‘30th Anniversary Match’ which featured some of the most silky smooth counter-wrestling I saw all year (MikeFlashJordan would have been proud) , but like Flair/Michaels it almost didn’t matter thanks to the absolutely bonkers atmosphere for the Villaño bout. This was an emotional battle featuring a white hot crowd (with ample support for each luchador), brawling before the opening bell, double mask-tearing, blood (when the back Villaño’s head hit some ringside seats following a tópé in the 1st which had to be checked by the ringside doctor between falls), some convincing near-falls, and insane dives into the crowd (at one point Panther delivered three consecutive topes) from the two veterans that built to a tearful finish. Emotion like this doesn’t surface in wrestling very often. Plus I probably wouldn’t have seen any other lucha matches this year, if I hadn’t enjoyed this so much.

From ‘The Land Of  The Rising Sun’, I enjoyed some I saw from AJPW’s annual Champion Carnival event, particularly Tanahashi’s matches with Kawada and Suwama. Maybe it’s the hair? The best tag team match I saw involved Pro Wrestling NOAH’s cancer survivor Kenta Kobashi teaming with protégé KENTA against the Kensuke Office duo of Kensuke Sasaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima at Great Voyage 2008. Played off the dynamic of two teams with one big, powerful, intense, veteran (Kobashi’s Giant Chop to the shoulder/Divorce Court is one of my favourites) and one smaller guy who kicks hard, the match built to a thirty-minute time limit draw, with brawling after the bell when Nakajima refused to handshake. My favourite matches from Japan were a couple of multi-man matches involving the same inter-promotional dynamic, namely the hard-hitting six man from Hakata Star Lane and the SEM  eight-man ‘Survival Tag’.

The six-man was one of those matches of half an hour with everyone played their role from start to finish. Highlights included: Sasaki backdropping Kobashi following a missed chop in the first minute, the expected KENTA/Nakajima exchange of kicks and trademark Epic Exchange of chops between Kobashi/Sasaki, a ‘Boshi Boston Crab on Nakajima, Nakajima seemingly KOing Taniguchi with a stiff head kick (leading to his being checked on by referee, ringside doctor and tag partners), and the sheer look of dread on Yamaguchi’s face after breaking up a Kobashi Cobra Twist on Nakajima.  At one point ‘Jima took a bump over the guardrail onto the lap of a guy in an ‘Austin 3:16’ shirt after another Kobashi chop. It climaxed in Nakajima scoring the win over Taniguchi after a roundhouse kick that almost took his head off and a German suplex, whilst Sasaki restrained Kobashi at ringside.

In the end, TheBigBoot Award for Match Of The Year goes to the ‘Survival’ (Elimination) match which lasted around an hour with perhaps the best action throughout, putting WWE’s attempts at Elimination Matches at Survivor Series to shame. The idea of the “SEM Brand” is apparently that the focus is on younger wrestlers rather than just ‘The Big Boys’, meaning  Aoki and co. were given ample opportunity to shine.
What this meant was that the match was three falls, starting with two-on-two (Takashi Okita & Kento Miyahara VS KENTA & Atsushi Aoki) and each time a fall occurred a partner replaced the eliminated partner. Starting fighting before the bell, with a suitably heelish double-team from the members of Kensuke Office, the stiff exchange of forearms that underpinned much of the match were periodically broken up by near-falls, eliminations, and false finishes being interrupted by interfering partners.

The first fall occurred when Miyahara tapped to a short-arm scissors, at which point Sasaki came out and instantly found himself on the receiving end of  KENTA kicks, before nailing a powerbomb and scoring the second fall over Aoki with a Boston Crab. The double-team move of an Ito dropkick and KENTA kick to the head (as well as an Ito Death Valley Driver and Frog Splash) on Sasaki wasn’t enough to stop the former IWGP Champion from fighting back and getting the pin on Ito with a Lariat, bringing out Kobashi himself. The former GHC Titleholder wasn’t given much chance to soak in the applause as even with streamers still surrounding him, Kobashi was hit with a rugby tackle, bodyslam, running-shoulderblock, and jackhammer from Okita, before he fired back with his trademark chops, a (revenge) Boston Crab, and slapped on a sleeper for the fall… Which heralded the arrival of Nakajima.

This was where things got really interesting. The was back and forth action, in which all four where allowed to shine, saw another Kobashi/Sasaki chop exchange that ended with a Sasaki backdrop; KENTA accidentaly booting Kobashi in the chops, then Nakajima doing the same to Sasaki; KENTA/Nakajima knocking each other down (and almost out) with simulatneous  running BigBoots; Sasaki scoring near-fall on KENTA with a stiff slap to the face; Nakajima almost putting him away with a rear-naked choke/bodyscisors combination (KENTA did a great job selling that one); and, once again, Nakajima being chopped over the guardrail and into the crowd by a fiery Kobashi. The poor chap also absorbed a DDT on the ringside mats and numerous chop variations from Kobashi and kick variations and German and Tiger suplexes from KENTA before being made to Go 2 Sleep… At which point, Sasaki was able to make the save. Showing a lot of the proverbial fighting spirit, Nakajima delivered a pair of German suplexes and a roundhouse kick to the back of KENTA’s head to nab the win for Kensuke Office. Just an incredible match featuring intense storytelling, strong individual performances, incredible crowd heat and a suitably dramatic finish. ****½

Honourable Mention:
Jeff Hardy v Umaga – Cage Match (Raw, 07/01/2008); Jeff Hardy vs. Shawn Michaels (Raw, 11/02/11/08); Jeff Hardy vs. Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels vs. HHH vs. JBL vs. Umaga – Elimination Chamber (WWE No Way Out, 17/02/08); Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair (WWE WrestleMania XXIV, 30/03/08); Edge vs. The Undertaker (WWE WrestleMania XXIV, 30/03/08); Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe – Cage Match (TNA Lockdown, 13/04/08); Kenta Kobashi, KENTA & Shuhei Taniguchi vs. Kensuke Sasaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima & Ryuji Yamaguchi (NOAH Hakata Star Lane, 13/04/08); Kenta Kobashi & KENTA vs. Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima (NOAH Great Voyage 2008 In Yokohama, 14/06/08); Blue Panther vs. Atlantis (CMLL Celebration Of 25 Years Of Atlantis , 11/07/08); Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels (WWE Great American Bash, 26/07/08); Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW Champion Carnival, 08/04/08); Kohei Suwama vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, (AJPW Champions Carnival Final, 09/04/08); Blue Panther – Mask vs. Mask Mask (CMLL 75 ANIVERSARIO, 19/09/08); The Big Show vs. The Undertaker (WWE No Mercy, 05/10/08); Jeff Hardy vs. Triple H (WWE No Mercy, 05/10/08); Evan Bourne vs. Chavo Guerrero (ECW, 14/10/08); Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels – Ladder Match (WWE No Mercy, 05/10/08); Rey Mysterio vs. Evan Bourne (Raw, 10/27/08); Matt Hardy vs. Evan Bourne (WWE Cyber Sunday, 26/10/08); Blue Panther vs. Averno (CMLL Panther’s 30th Anniversary Match, 04/11/08).

N.B. After much deliberation I have narrowed this down to my personal top twenty in chronological order. Anyone looking to track down and watch some of these matches should note that (as you have hopefully gathered by now) unlike 99.99% of reviewers on the internet ,I use the European method of dating (date/month/year).

Worst Match Of The Year 2008: Triple H vs. Vladimir vs. Edge (WWE Survivor Series 2008, 23rd November, 2008)

Despite the good in 2008, there was no shortage of stinkers. Before getting to the match itself I should point out that the USA, South America and the UK were all responsible for churning out some truly appalling attempts at wrestling. So of course there have been other matches that were as poor as this one globally, but for a match that was supposed to be for a World Title (the WWE Championship) in the biggest company in the world (WWE), this was diabolical.

Whilst Jericho/JBL at Royal Rumble might have had the silliest/strangest build-up (a shame considering the original promo was fantastic) and was a disappointment considering it was Bradshaw’s comeback match and Jericho had just come back, I would still consider the portion of the WWE Title Match between Kozlov and Triple H at Survivor Series as the most disappointing match I saw all year – especially, after seeing Kozlov have decent TV matches with Stevie Richards, Undertaker and Festus and Triple H look motivated against Jeff Hardy. The one saving grace here was the finish… but even that wasn’t enough to save it. Trips and Vladmir should donate paycheques to Edge because he did more of interest in seconds than they did the entire match. These two had no chemistry together whatsoever.

Just like a good match can be ruined by a bad finish, this was a case where a bad match had a good finish and nothing else.

(Dis)Honourable Mention: Braden Walker vs. Armando Estrada (ECW, 8th Jul 2008)

Worst Wrestler Of The Year 2008: Braden Walker

It turns out the grass wasn’t greener on the other side for TNA’s former ‘Wild Cat’ Chris Harris.  Sporting a sizeable beer belly and Walker, Texas Ranger inspired name/gimmick a decade too late for it to have any impact, Braden bumbled onto the scene and delivered one left-handed clothesline after another (in fairness, WWE matches are laid out in advance so Walker was simply following orders… but that didn’t make it any more fun to watch) before disappearing into the sunset after being handed his release.

Whereas the likes The Great Khali and Mike Knox were for the most part booked to their strengths (i.e. short, squash-style matches) Walker (and the same goes for fellow ECW alumni Ricky Ortiz) just looked horrible. When the best thing that can be said about your run is that it inspired a funny video on Youtube, then you know your WWE career wasn’t exactly on par with The Rock. Braden wins on the basis that it is very difficult to make such a negative impact in such a short time. That is almost a compliment. Almost. Still there’s always that Best Of Braden Walker DVD to fall back on.

(Dis)Honourable Mention: Ricky Ortiz

1st Annual TheBigBoot DVD Review Award: The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling DVD Review (WWE)

Whilst The Ladder Match (may be the most consistent DVD WWE has ever produced in terms of actual match quality, The Triumph & Tragedy of WCCW remains a personal favourite. Historical inaccuracies and deliberate distortion of facts aside, it serves as a reminder of a bygone era when Terry Gordy was considered one of the best workers in the world without people moaning he didn’t have six-pack abs, Michael Hayes was the coolest cat in town, Bruiser Brody was the scariest man in wrestling, and the Von Erichs commanded a love from the fans in Dallas that babyfaces today would find hard to comprehend.  It also serves as a reminder of the dark side of the business and a reminder of some of the mistakes made by those who are no longer with us today.

Honourable Mention: Ric Flair & The Four Horsemen ; WrestleMania XXIII  ; The Ladder Match

The Kent Walton Award (Announcer Of The Year): Jim Ross

A controversial pick, but a fair one in my opinion (and since they are my Awards then that’s really all that matters). Amongst all the praise for Matt Striker and all the mocking of Mike Adamle, Good Ol’ JR quietly had his best performances in years highlighted by good showings at Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. As annoyed as he may have been at the way he was informed of his Draft (see: Now That’s What I Call Wrestling #5: The Draft) for more detailed analysis of the situation) the Barbeque Blogger seemed motivated after the move from SmackDown!. Another factor is longevity. Whereas Striker only replaced Adamle for the last third of the year, and Cole (who did work all year) struggled to find his niche in his new partnership with Lawler on Raw, Ross was the most consistent over the twelve month period and worked on two brands, with three very different broadcast partners each with (Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Tazz) their own styles that Ross was able to adapt to and play-off. Anyone who works in the broadcasting industry will tell you how difficult it is to build rapport with one commentary partner, even when they have similar styles, let alone three individuals like the above. Love him or hate him, there’s a reason Ross has been so hard to replace. Boomer Sooner!
Honourable Mention: Matt Striker

The Bobby Heenan Award (Non-Wrestling Performer Of The Year): Vickie Guerrero

 This is my version of the award for what in the old days would have been called ‘Best Second’ – an award that is intended to be given to a manager, an authority figure, or any other onscreen performer whose main role is not that of a wrestler.

Just when you thought the Heel Authority FigureTM gimmick was dead, along came Vickie Guerrero. If ever there was an angle that started out badly but ended up being a good decision in retrospect it was the appointment of Vickie Guerrero as General Manager of SmackDown! At first many fans found using Eddie Guerrero’s widow as an onscreen character distasteful arguing that not only was it an example of exploitation but she was clueless as an onscreen performer. Instead she developed into one of the best heels in the business, becoming arguably the best General Manager WWE have had and generating as much heat as any heel not named Muhammed Hassan has done in the past seven years to the extent that some of that heat has even rubbed off on those associated with her (namely Chavo Guerrero).

In her storyline relationship with Edge, Vickie managed to walk the tight-line between generating an enormous amount of heat for herself whilst not taking away from her man’s heat. It is true that some of her angles have been given a lot of TV time that could have gone on grapplers but at the same time she has managed to mainly make the matches (often stacked heavily in favour of La Familia) and stay out of the way without overshadowing the show in the way the McMahons often have. Part of the reason her heel gimmick works so well because she’s not your typical ‘WWE Diva’, but there is also the fact that Vickie isn’t a wrestler and isn’t out there taking bumps every night (as has been the case with other managers/authority figures) the times she has been involved in something physical it has meant something.

If I had an award for the most improved performer of the last few years, I’d give that to her as well but as it is the ‘Best  Non-Wrestling Performer Of 2008’ was the woman who has made the phrase “Excuse me!” has become a Friday night institution.

Honourable Mention: Jim Cornette

The Midnight Express Award (Tag Team Of The Year): John Morrison and The Miz

Almost a redundant category given the dearth of talent around these days but the team referred by some as ‘Mizorrison’ at least deserve credit for trying. Over the course of the year they held both the WWE (November 2007 to June 2008) and World (December 2008) Tag Team Titles dominating the WWE’s Tag Team Division by appearing on (and feuding with teams on) all three brands throughout the year.

Funny to think that they were first put together doing the ‘reluctant tag team partner gimmick’ in late 2007 many felt the partnership would drag Morrison down. Instead the opposite happened and it turned out to be a mutually beneficial as Morrison continued to hone his ring-skills alongside his mystic ‘Guru Of Greatness’, whilst The Miz showed noticeable improvements going from ‘Reality TV star turned wrestler’ to credible worker in his own right and the best tag team and one of the most consistently entertaining acts in the company.

Inside the ring they were involved in three of the best U.S. tag matches of the year against the teams of Jimmy Wang Yang and Shannon Moore ‘15 Minutes of Fame (ECW, 8th January, 2008),  Rey Mysterio and Evan Bourne (Raw, 8th September, 2008), and  Mysterio and Shawn Michaels (Raw, 17th November, 2008). Outside the ring, the two developed a real chemistry together in their promos, parodies (DX “ARE YOU FIFTY?”), skits and promos which was most noticeable in their exclusive feature The Dirt Sheet. On the 8th December edition of Raw they deservingly won Slammy Awards for ‘Tag Team of the Year’ and ‘Best exclusive’. Now they can add TheBigBoot Award to their trophy collection in ‘The Palace Of Wisdom’.

Honourable Mention: N/A

The Ric Flair Award – TheBigBoot’s Wrestler Of The Year: Chris Jericho

The most compelling individual story of the year was Chris Jericho’s transformation from a wise-cracking ‘Ayatollah Of Rock N Rolla’ into a deathly serious suit and tie wearing old school heel.

Following his Matrix like viral marketing campaign in late 2007, the man who promised to “Save Us” got off to a rocky start. Thrown in at the top, in a programme he was unlikely to win, his initial title feud with then-World Champion Randy Orton only resulted in one pay-per-view match at Armageddon 2007 (which he won via DQ after commentator John Bradshaw Layfield interfered) following which he was swiftly moved out of the title picture and into a feud with the returning JBL. A month after he had returned, Y2J’s critics were quick to write him off as “a disappointment” but a combination of some good character booking (which was apparently largely written by Jericho himself), stars leaving for SmackDown! in the Draft and some stellar work on the microphone Jericho was able to have one of the best years (many would say the best) of his career. Returning to peak form in-ring he entered some strong individual performances against Jeff Hardy, Shawn Michaels, Batista John Cena and C.M. Punk as well helping hold together the multi-man Elimination Chamber (No Way Out 2008) and Money In The Bank Ladder (WrestleMania XXIV) matches. The match in which he won his record-breaking from Hardy (Raw, 25/02/08) was particularly impressive.

It is his eight month long storyline with Shawn Michaels that Jericho’s 2008 will be most remembered. Sure they weren’t all ‘Match Of The Year Contenders’  but the feud did produce some entertaining stuff and you could see a clear development throughout the feud, as the Matches started with a regular babyface vs. babyface match at Judgment Day and culminated in an ‘Unsanctioned Match’ on the 10th November episode of Raw from Manchester, England. Impressively, considering how often they worked together, they were able to differentiate the matches from each other through a combination of this developing story and the use of gimmicks. The in-ring highlight was their climatic Ladder Match at No Mercy. Interestingly enough, Jericho and Michaels were apparently given a great deal of creative freedom over this storyline and came up with the bulk of the material themselves. Wrestlers booking wrestling angles, that’ll never catch on…

Most memorably the feud led to an angle reminiscent of Shawn Michaels original heel turn in which he Superkicked and then threw long-time tag team partner Marty Jannetty through The Barber Shop’s window (not Superkicked him through the window as many seem to think). Over sixteen years later it was a different wrestling ‘Talk Show’segment. The destruction of the Jerichotron marked the end of Jericho’s existing character and the beginning of a new one. Their bloody match at the Great American Bash, right before the new blading rules kicked in, was violent, brutal storytelling at its best culminating in Jericho causing the Heartbreak Kid a “career ending” eye injury. The last episode of The Highlight Reel followed the night after the Bash as having rid the wrestling world of Michaels (at least until SummerSlam) the former Y2J finally considered himself “saved”.  Turning heel on the “hypocrites” in the audience, Jericho simply told them to “grow up”.

Granted, his (since-released) sidekick Lance Cade didn’t contribute much to the act but other than that the Sharp Dressed Man was able to hit it for six. The new gimmick got over well and by the end of the year he had added two World Title reigns to his résumé. Now That’s What I Call Wrestling!

Honourable Mention: The Undertaker; Edge; Randy Orton; Jeff Hardy

Carl ‘TheBigBoot’ Robinson