Dot Net's 2013 WWE NXT Year-End Awards: Dot Net's resident "NXT Guys" Darren Gutteridge and Zack Zimmerman offer their selections for NXT Superstar of the year, Diva of the year, match of the year, comeback of the year, next call-up, and more!
By Darren Gutteridge and Zack Zimmerman
Welcome everybody, I hope your end of year festivities were everything you hoped for. I'd now like to welcome you to the 2nd annual NXT awards! If you thought the Slammy Awards were pointless, well you my friend have another thing coming! THESE are the true meaning of pointless, and yet they riveting and thought inducing at the same time. I like good contradiction, don't you? – Darren
A year ago this week, I was fortunate enough to join the staff of ProWrestling.Net to cover the show I love so much, NXT. Thanks to Jason and the staff, a few helpful pals in Florida, a keen eye on the product, and of course my Limey colleague Darren Gutteridge, Dot Net offers the most in-depth NXT coverage and analysis anywhere on the 'net. There's a good deal of thought put into these selections, but they are all completely subjective. Without any further ado, let's get on with the awards. - Zim
NXT Superstar of the Year
Gutteridge – Sami Zayn: I don't see how it could be anybody else quite frankly. I initially had my guard up during my first few weeks watching the artist formerly known as El Generico, as I do during my first exposure to all internet darlings, but man has he put all worries about being “over hyped” to bed. Benefiting from being treated as a main star since his début night, Zayn has yet to have anything less than an above average match. He has also found a good footing on the mic, being instantly likeable with an understated, underlying passion and fire. WWE could have another great underdog workhorse babyface on their hands here if he is booked correctly.
Zimmerman – Sami Zayn: I'm slightly apprehensive to say Zayn definitively because his NXT career didn't kick off until June. However looking back over 2013 as a whole, no other performer put forward such a strong body of work with so few flaws in the entire year as Zayn has in the past six months. His debut wins over Curt Hawkins and Antonio Cesaro, two-out-of-three-falls match of the year with Cesaro, NXT title program with Bo Dallas, match of the year candidate with Adrian Neville, and current program with Leo Kruger are of unmatched quality by anyone in NXT. He also put any doubters to rest by being the most composed, likable, and innately charismatic talker in NXT. Sami Zayn is a star who is as close to being a "master of his craft" as anyone in wrestling.
Honorable Mentions: Bray Wyatt, for the mastery and presence of his character; Big E Langston, for his utter dominance and popularity throughout the first half of 2013; Luke Harper, for a strong body of work, his unmatched character portrayal, and being the workhorse of The Wyatt Family; Bo Dallas, for finding himself as a persona and the longest NXT Title reign in history.
NXT Diva of the Year
Z – Paige: In another category with several qualified contenders, I looked towards body of work and positioning within the division to make my decision. Throughout 2013, Paige earned the adulation of the Full Sail crowd and NXT viewers alike en route to becoming the first ever NXT Women's Champion. She's had strong matches with Summer Rae, Emma, and Natalya, among others. She is the centerpiece of the NXT ladies who pride themselves on presenting competitive, competent, and athletic women's wrestling. Her drawbacks lay in her somewhat unspectacular promo skills as well as her youth (21 years old). Fortunately, both of these will strengthen with time and experience. With such a strong base to build on, the future of the Anti-Diva looks incredibly promising.
G – Paige: Again, a no-brainer. Paige has dominated the NXT women's division since the departure of Raquel Diaz, and has deserved to. Compared to the main roster, the division's quality on NXT has fluctuated a lot less, helped by having a champion who usually delivers in the ring and has improved in promos. There are a few women on the cusp of making their NXT début, not to mention the expected return of Diaz, so hopefully this award will be more than a one horse race next year.
Honorable Mentions: Summer Rae, for the strongest persona in the division, quality of promos, and in-ring improvement; Emma, for captivating the Full Sail crowd and NXT viewers; *Renee Young, for breathing life into the role of an interviewer and enhancing every segment she was a part of.
NXT Comeback of the Year
G – Bo Dallas: It looked for all the world that Dallas was going to die a slow death in Florida. He was in the unique situation where being in development was actually stunting his progress, as the Cult of Full Sail had turned on him in a huge way. But once creative stopped trying to treat Dallas like John Cena and continually push him as a babyface despite the wall of boos that met him every time he came through the curtain, they actually turned a negative into a huge positive. Dallas went from unintentionally pissing off the fans to intentionally pissing them off, by turning up his rather bland character to triple vanilla levels. Dallas is now comedy gold, and the fans are more than happy to give him the reaction he now wants – he's the most hated man in NXT, but now it's because he wants to be.
Z – Bo Dallas: January 2013: Bo Dallas enters the Royal Rumble and eliminates (then Intercontinental Champion) Wade Barrett. By February, Bo was nowhere to be found on the main roster and was back in NXT playing a throw–up–your–mouth white meat babyface. In April, Barrett went down to NXT, knocked Bo out, and retained his Intercontinental title to put the program to rest once and for all. By this point, after failing to connect with the WWE crowds, the NXT crowd had completely turned on him as well. Fans had patented "No more Bo" and "Bo-ring" chants. They were literally turning their backs to the ring during his matches. It seemed as though Bo may not be long for the WWE/NXT Universe. But then in May, Bo stepped up to "help" Adrian Neville defend the NXT Tag Titles after Oliver Grey went down with an injury. Bo lost the match by being selfish and lost the titles that were never his. By this point, the seeds were planted. After defeating Full Sail favorite Big E Langston to win the NXT title (with the help of an exposed turnbuckle), all that was left to do was position Bo properly moving forward. Bo and creative honed in and found a way to make his character click without diverting from who he had been. He managed to transition from a "go away" babyface to the most entertaining yet unlikable heel in NXT. In doing so, Bo's career has been rejuvenated and I feel confident in saying that he has a better shot of making it with this character than he ever would've otherwise. I Bo-lieve.
Honorable Mention: Sasha Banks, for transitioning from bland babyface to "The Boss" character.
NXT Disappointment of the Year
Z – Kassius Ohno: This "award" does not go to the man, nor to NXT management, but rather to the situation as a whole. I've been as optimistic about this as anyone and I remain so, nonetheless, a world-class talent leaving such a world-class environment is an unfortunate thing. That said, Chris Hero's abilities are a masterful showcase of the art of wrestling, and NXT was not a place where he was being fully utilized or appreciated. Chris will be able to put forward a far stronger body of work on the independent scene and internationally then he would've been able to in NXT. He will also be able to share his talents, experiences, and knowledge with young wrestlers all over the world. I would not be surprised if down the road, he returns to NXT in a trainer's role, where he could be a real benefit in shaping the future talent of the industry.
G – The Ascension: Congratulations to The Ascension for becoming the first two time winner of an NXT award. They won this award last year, and 12 months on, they are still the same campy, boring mess they were in 2012. Yes, match quality has improved slightly, as they now work with more established teams instead of plowing through jobbers, but the gimmick is still dreadful. The biggest change has been their names, but who in the world though Konnor was an intimidating name?
”I Walk Among You” Award
G – Antonio Cesaro: This award is to highlight the main roster guy who has done the most to help the rookies on NXT, and Cesaro has gone above and beyond to escalate various people over the past 12 months. Predominantly working with Sami Zayn, Cesaro has made him look like a star. He has also done good work with Leo Kruger and Bo Dallas, and it couldn't be more telling of his impact that he appeared in two of the best matches of the year. It's a role I hope other main roster guys fill over the course of 2014.
Z – Antonio Cesaro: This was a relative no-brainer, as Antonio Cesaro is essentially a constant on NXT. He's taken part in the tag title tournament, competed for the NXT championship, and defended the United States championship on NXT. His matches with Sami Zayn, Leo Kruger, and William Regal compile one of the strongest portfolios on the show, and all while working full-time on the road with WWE. Everyone Cesaro has worked with has benefited by being in the ring with him, and every time he steps in the ring at NXT, he has the strong potential to steal the show.
Honorable Mention: William Regal, for an outstanding grasp of his role and for the top quality of his programs with Kassius Ohno and Antonio Cesaro.
NXT Match of the Year
G – Sami Zayn vs. Antonio Cesaro (2-Out-of-3-Falls-Match from 8/21): While this again may seem like an easy choice, I can't tell you how much I agonised over this choice, because this little show has produced two of the best matches I've seen in years. Both this and Zayn vs. Adrian Neville were high energy, riverting, technical masterpieces, and choosing between the two is like what I imagine it must be to chose which of your children you love the most. There is nothing to chose between the matches, so I chose Zayn's first piece of brilliance simply because it enjoyed a better build and told a slightly better story. I wouldn't argue if you chose option B though.
Z – Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville (No.1 Contender's match from 11/27): With all due respect to the awesomeness of the Zayn vs. Cesaro and Regal vs. Cesaro, this is a subjective article and I actually preferred Neville vs. Zayn in their number one contenders match from the November 27 episode. As a fan of independent wrestling, the match was brilliant callback to prior bouts, only molded into a WWE main event style. The pace was unmatched by anything in NXT history and was something that very few performers could achieve. Though it was barely long enough to qualify, the intensity and fluidity of the action earns this contest my match of the year award.
Honorable Mentions: William Regal vs. Antonio Cesaro from 12/25; Paige vs. Natalya from 12/4; Paige vs. Emma in the NXT Women's Title tournament finals from 7/24; William Regal vs. Kassius Ohno from 4/10.
NXT Moment of the Year
Z – The Wyatt Family Farewell: Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Erik Rowan combined to form the hottest act NXT has ever seen. Bray's mesmerizing way with words captivated fans and victims alike, as Harper and Rowan tore through everyone on their way to becoming NXT Tag Champions. Having made their mark by converted an arena full of fans into an arm-swaying cult, and gotten the call up to the big show, Bray delivered his very fan-friendly and well-delivered farewell. In doing so, he validated the fans who had supported the high-quality of their work, revealed that a potential strong babyface lives somewhere inside him, and provided a satisfying send off to the first major act to come out of NXT in its current form.
G – Bray Wyatt says “goodbye”: Part of the beauty of NXT is it actually affords people an “ending”. Whereas as going on the road can end abruptly, or carry on for years, on NXT everyone has a finite amount of time. “Stories” can have beginnings, middles, and definitive ends. And unsurprisingly, Wyatt took full advantage of his last appearance at the Full Sail arena, giving a speech that was surprisingly uplifting compared to his usual spiel. Bray invited Full Sail to join him in “taking down the machine”, and damn did they want to. It was his best promo work on NXT, and it may be Wyatt's best work to date, which is saying something. Wyatt can be a pretty powerful babyface should he ever need a change.
Honorable Mentions: The Bray Wyatt-Kassius Ohno stare from 5/9; Oliver Grey's “Yo Adrian, we did it!” after winning the NXT Tag Team titles with Neville, because Rocky rules. End of sentence.
NXT “One to Watch” in 2014
G – Tyler Breeze: I think NXT's problem at present is the gulf that has opened up between those who are clearly main roster bound soon (Zayn, Neville, Kruger, Graves etc.), and “everyone else”. But I think Breeze will be one of lesser lights that will get to shine a lot brighter once there is some breathing room at the top of the card. Slowly but surely, he has shown more of what he can do in the ring. His character has started to develop some quirks that will allow him to break free of his fairly one note model gimmick. I think this upwards trajectory will continue in 2014, and early signs are positive, as a feud with Neville seems to be on the cards.
Z – Tye Dillinger: The former Shawn or Gavin Spears is a world-traveled competitor in the prime of his career. He's touted as one of the most underrated heels in wrestling, and showed signs of brilliance in his only "prominent" NXT appearance to date; an enhancement loss to Mojo Rawley. Spears was released from WWE in 2009 after several years in developmental and several appearances on WWECW, at which point he returned to wrestling independently and in Puerto Rico. He was re-signed by WWE in the second half of 2013, leaving me optimistic that he will be among the next wave of new guys to get pushed on NXT TV in 2014.
Honorable Mentions: Solomon Crowe, as he's making rounds on the NXT live tour and appears to have a character hashed out and ready to go; Kalisto, also appearing on NXT live events, for his potential to be WWE's next masked dynamo; Alexander Rusev, for his size and strength coupled with management's apparent affinity for him.
The Next Big Call Up
Z – Leo Kruger: While the athleticism of Adrian Neville or underdog charisma of Sami Zayn may seem like the most appealing addition to the main roster, I am completely sold on Leo Kruger as a main event caliber performer. His persona is unique, his work is vicious, his promos are compelling, and his dues have been paid. He's in his mid-30s, which is pushing him towards the tail end of his "ripeness" in WWE's eyes, but he is ready to be picked in every way he can possibly be ready. I think the character he's been using is TV quality, but the recent notes on a character change don’t change my sentiment towards the man: get him on the main roster.
G – Adrian Neville: Zayn was again considered for this award, but part of his appeal is his likeability, and it's hard to tell if he'll catch on as quick on Raw and SD where space is limited, and hardcore fans familiar with his history are fewer and far between. No, this award goes to Neville as I believe he is the guy who could make a big impact quickly on main roster TV. He isn't a talker, so he'll be showcased in the ring, and he'll excel, because everything he does is spectacular. His lasting appeal may be questionable, but not being good on the mic has never really hindered Mysterio, has it?
Honorable Mentions: Sami Zayn, for his tremendous work ability and underdog appeal; Bo Dallas, while his first run may not have gone as planned, his current character is his best bet of making it and as history has shown, the NXT Title is the ticket to the main roster; Paige, because she's competing with AJ as the top female wrestler in the company and the prospect of a feud between the two could bring the Divas division back to life.
“Give that guy a match!” 2014:
G – Solomon Crowe: Last year, I gave this award to TAC, based entirely on his tattoos. He promptly disappeared without ever appearing on TV. I hope this doesn't happen a second time round, as the artist formerly known as Sami Callihan has the stand out performance of the recently leaked “promo class” videos. Currently working NXT house shows and dark matches, Crowe is rocking a hacker gimmick, controlling the arena with an iPad. Cheesy? Yes. Unique? Yes. It's interesting at the very least, and I'm hyped for his debut.
Z – Solomon Crowe: In 2012 and early 2013, Sami Callihan was the best in-ring storyteller on the independent wrestling scene, headlining shows for DGUSA, Evolve, CZW, PWG, WXW, 2CW and many others. His experience and ability combined with a compelling character makes him, IMO, one of the top two "unseen" prospects in NXT right now.
Honorable Mention: Kalisto, as he really must be seen to be believed.
Throw comments, questions, criticisms, or corrections @InVasionZim; always happy to discuss.
Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts on the article, add me on Twitter - @DazatheG.
RECOMMEND THIS ARTICLE:
READ OUR INSIDER NEWS BEFORE ANYONE ELSE! BECOME A MEMBER FOR JUST $7.50 A MONTH (or less with a year-long sub) - GET THE FIRST LOOK AT EXCLUSIVE INSIDER DOT NET NEWS, TONS OF EXCLUSIVE AUDIO CONTENT, MEMBER MESSAGE BOARD ACCESS, START YOUR OWN BLOG, AND VIEW THE SITE WITHOUT ANY ADVERTISING: SIGN ME UP (or MORE INFO)
RELATED ARTICLES FROM MGID AFFILIATE SITES...