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    Friday, December 29, 2017

    The Henries: The 2017 Smark Henry Awards

    We're a few days away from putting 2017 in the books—good riddance—so it's high time that we dish out some awards to highlight the best (and the worst) of this past year. Over this site's first two years, we've done that through our 31 Days of Wrestling series, while we had the traditional awards by category on The SGP Podcast. This year, we've decided to migrate the awards column to the site, especially now that our Bullpen's grown since the site has launched. As for the Theme Song Awards, that show stays on the podcast for obvious reasons.

    There are 13 categories on this year's awards column, all of which highlight the different things we enjoy about the product on a day-to-day basis. I sought out the Bullpen's help in determining candidates for these categories, and even winners in some cases. While some of the winners on this column got the majority vote from the Bullpen, I had to exercise veto powers in other categories because of the impact that these particular winners had on the wrestling landscape this year.

    As we give out the inaugural Henries on the site, it bears explaining that the awards bear Mark Henry's image on them since he's our website's spirit animal, after whom we're named.

    Without further ado, I present this year's Henries:

    Rookie of the Year: Samoa Joe (RAW)

    Long-time followers of the site and of the podcast should be familiar with our definition of a "rookie." Anyone who's been called up from NXT to the main roster counts, regardless of actual length of experience in the industry. If you jump from one promotion to a bigger one, that also counts as being a rookie—which is why AJ Styles qualified for this award last year. 

    Now that that's out of the way, Samoa Joe is the runaway winner after the impact he's had on RAW since debuting on the main roster. He's been in high-profile stories from the get-go, being Triple H's hired gun during the Seth Rollins feud earlier this year, to immediately being in the Universal Championship picture post-WrestleMania, to currently messing with Intercontinental Champion Roman Reigns. Yes, he didn't even get booked at 'Mania despite being perfectly healthy—a headscratching move that still bothers me today—and he had an injury, which took him out for a couple of months after SummerSlam. But from the moment he appeared on RAW, Samoa Joe has hit the ground running and has trended upward every step of the way. Don't be surprised if he finally wins a major championship in 2018.

    Honorable mentions: Elias (RAW), Aleister Black (NXT), Aldrin Richards (MWF), Zayden Trudeau (PWR)

    Most Improved: Jinder Mahal (SmackDown Live), Juice Robinson (NJPW), and Braun Strowman (RAW) (3-way tie)

    This category needs no explanation, other than that it was the most divisive one in the Smark Henry Offices. One section of the Bullpen was loudly advocating to not hinder Jinder, one section was screaming the virtues of the former CJ Parker, and the last were just throwing executive chairs around in a fit of rage. So who do you satisfy?

    On one hand, you can argue that Jinder Mahal didn't necessarily add a whole lot to his game, so much as he was given more opportunities to ply his trade and shine in WWE this past year. Vince McMahon needed a star he can build for the market in India, so Jinder stepped up, took the brass ring and ran all the way with it. Granted, he didn't really have matches we could rave about until he went toe-to-toe with AJ Styles. But through his metanarrative of not seemingly deserving to even be in the main event, to his antics with the Singh Brothers, to the latent xenophobia that U.S. audiences have been displaying in jeering him, Jinder Mahal has become one of the few true heels of the modern era.

    As for Juice Robinson, he's made a splash in New Japan this year in his own right. He defeated Hirooki Goto and Tetsuya Naito, while both were still holding the NEVER and IWGP Intercontinental Championships, respectively. He was also one of the contenders for the inaugural IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship at Long Beach, made a stellar debut at this year's G1 Climax, and even challenged Kenny Omega for the U.S. title. To top it all of, he formed "Death Juice," teaming up with Sami Callihan in this year's World Tag League. To say that 2017 was Juice's breakout year is an understatement.

    And then there's Braun Strowman, who built on the momentum he got towards the end of last year and parlayed it into being one of RAW's main eventers. There's an alternate universe where Braun Strowman archetypes no longer succeed in wrestling in 2017. But Braun took his physical gifts and maximized them, turning himself into the ultimate wrestling throwback. He's huge and imposing, speaks with a gnarly growl reminiscent of promos cut in the 80's, and performs feats of strength that remind you of what wrestling was originally supposed to be: a sideshow of spectacles. He should have won the Universal Championship from Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam because, frankly, we deserve to see what this Monster can do as a Champion Among Men.

    Honorable mentions: Elias (RAW), Chris Panzer (PWR), Alexa Bliss (SmackDown, then RAW)

    The Struggle: Finn Bálor (RAW)

    This award isn't really an award. It's more of a non-award at this point. Think of the "advantage" Devon Pinto got in Survivor: HHH, which took away his right to vote at Tribal Council in episode four. That was not an advantage. And this award is not an award.

    In this case, The Struggle refers to someone who had a lot of hype heading into 2017, but ultimately came out on the short end of the stick for whatever reason. He/she can be in a worse position on the card than they were at the start of the year, or could be floundering around in the midcard with no real direction through most of it. Finn Bálor actually satisfies both categories. 

    Finn came into this year as someone fans were anticipating to make a return in the Royal Rumble Match. We didn't get that. People then thought he'd make a return prior to WrestleMania Sun so he could make his 'Mania debut, even as a potential tag partner for Seth Rollins in a hypothetical match against Triple H and Samoa Joe. We didn't get that either. What we did get was a post-'Mania return, which was well-received by the fans who hoped he'd immediately seek to reclaim the Universal Championship he never lost. Well, we got that... sort of.

    See, Bálor didn't get his rematch. He got an opportunity at a rematch, and when Samoa Joe went on to face Brock Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire, that was it for Finn's title opportunities. It really was mind-boggling, given how Finn never seemed to get that fair shot to make his way back into the main event, since the injury wasn't necessarily his fault, and he can't really prove that he can't hang with the big boys if he isn't given the chance to do so.

    After a brief flirtation with main-event relevance at Survivor Series, Finn went back to easily dispatching of the Miztourage on RAW to end his 2017. Somehow, this feels like even more of a disservice than how Bray Wyatt's WWE Championship reign sputtered to an awful ending, thanks to that terribad WrestleMania match with Randy Orton.

    Honorable mentions: Bray Wyatt (SmackDown Live), Mike and Maria Kanellis (SmackDown Live)

    WTF Moment of the Year: James Ellsworth Wins the First-Ever Women's Money in the Bank Ladder Match for Carmella (SmackDown Live)

    We've already talked about this ad nauseam in Ricky Publíco's SmackDown RunDown Live column, as well as in our 31 Days of Wrestling entry for this moment.

    But just in case you need a refresher for why Ellsworth's MITB heist ran away with this award, WWE needed to have a Wonder Woman moment to add to the legitimacy of their Women's Revolution by having a woman actually climb the ladder and retrieve the briefcase. In having Ellsworth do this on Carmella's behalf, they shot themselves in the foot and set the Revolution a few steps back because of the subtext that someone like Carmella still needed a man to help her achieve success, even when the opportunity was right there for the women. The fact that they re-did this match two weeks later on SmackDown Live was a lowkey admission that they done fucked this one up.

    Honorable mentions: The Sister Abigail Reveal (RAW), Jason Jordan Is Outed as Kurt Angle's Son (RAW)

    OMG Moment of the Year: The Hardyz Return at WrestleMania Sun

    Was there really a bigger OMG moment this year?

    This was a moment that sent shockwaves through wrestling fans everywhere, both hardcore and casual. Reaction videos to their return went viral. People lost their minds and voices screaming when the Hardyz' theme played at WrestleMania this past April!

    Yeah, it took WWE about seven months (and a Jeff Hardy injury) to finally introduce BROKEN WOKEN Matt Hardy to the WWE Universe. It was also pretty sad watching the Hardyz' nostalgia tour as they wore the stuff they used to as 20-somethings some two decades later. But, for one moment at WrestleMania, when Matt and Jeff finally came home, we all felt like little kids again because we knew that having them around was going to open up so many more possibilities both story-wise and in the ring.

    Honorable mentions: Chris Jericho challenges Kenny Omega to a match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 (NJPW), Sami Zayn turns heel (SmackDown Live), Kevin Owens headbutts Mr. McMahon (SmackDown Live), Jinder Mahal wins the WWE Championship (SmackDown Live), Jake De Leon turns heel and joins Team Sebastian (PWR)

    Tag Team of the Year: The Usos (SmackDown Live)

    The Usos had a banner 2017, winning the SmackDown Tag Team Championships, shortly before WrestleMania Sun against American Alpha. After dispatching of Jordan and Gable, and then later, Breezango, they entered into a feud with the New Day, which was a rivalry we didn't knew we needed until it unfolded right before our eyes.

    The feud was simple: which team wrestled better and wanted those championships more? These guys delivered and then some, swapping the titles, having a battle rap, and even fighting over the championships inside Hell in a Cell. No other team really came close to the Usos this year, proving that you can't really beat a tag team that's been down since day one ish.

    Honorable mentions: The Bar (RAW), War Machine (ROH, NJPW), Breezango (SmackDown Live), #DIY (NXT), Authors of Pain (NXT)

    Local Tag Team of the Year: The YOLO Twins (PWR)

    Delly K. Deza: Without question, it's the YOLO Twins. These guys were the first ever PWR Tag Team Champions, had a great win-loss record for most of 2017, outclassed the Regime in an international showcase, got into a powerhouse stable with Ken Warren, and had those sweet new jackets that "Beautiful" Billy Suede and Jake De Leon ended up jacking at AsiaPop Comicon this past August.

    Manager of the Year: Zelina Vega (NXT)

    With apologies to Maryse, who was my personal vote in this category, Zelina Vega wins this award for strapping a rocket to Andrade "Cien" Almas, essentially turning him from midcarder running in place to NXT Champion. It's amazing how much she's revamped his character in just five months, giving Almas the edge he needed to bang with the big boys on NXT.

    Vega brings an added layer of braggadocio that makes you want to hate Almas even more. Not only is he a champion who looks better than you, but he's also with one of the hottest women this side of Florida. Plus, having the ambiguity in the Cien/Zelina relationship only makes it better. After all, can't exes be friends? Or if their history isn't romantic at all, can't a man and a woman just have a successful business relationship without banging? Does this even matter? Zelina Vega proved this year that it really doesn't, as long as you get your client to the top.

    Honorable mentions: Maryse (SmackDown, then RAW), Paul Heyman (RAW)

    Promo of the Year: The Festival of Friendship (RAW)

    So much has been written and said about the Festival of Friendship from Chris Jericho's Talk Is Jericho interview with former WWE writer Jimmy Jacobs—who was the creative force behind the entire Jericho/Kevin Owens angle—to the WWE 365 episode on Owens, to my feelings about it the day after it happened, to its very own entry on our 31 Days of Wrestling series.

    But in a nutshell, here's why the Festival of Friendship is this year's Promo of the Year. From the moment Jericho and Owens teamed up, we knew they were headed towards a singles feud with one another. But the way they sold their team and their best friendship rope-a-doped us along because it was so damn convincing. The Festival of Friendship was supposed to be this over-the-top, comedic sketch that we could all just laugh about because it was so fucking silly.

    And yet, it managed to collectively break our hearts as KO smashed Jericho's head through that candy glass panel. After all, when friendships end, they sometimes hurt much worse than breakups. It's a reminder that no matter how much we want to be part of other people's lives, if they don't want to let you in, then it ultimately doesn't matter. It also showed us that not all best friendships are forever. Show all of this to the next person who tells you that wrestling is fake. 

    Honorable mentions: John Cena and the Miz' war of words (February 28, 2017, SmackDown Live), John Cena eviscerates Roman Reigns (August 28, 2017, RAW), Roman Reigns' "This is My Yard Now" promo (April 3, 2017, RAW)

    Female Superstar of the Year: Alexa Bliss (SmackDown Live, RAW)

    Now we're getting to the good stuff. Our first major award was only really a competition between two women: Asuka and Alexa Bliss.

    The case for Asuka was simple. She's been undefeated since 2015 and has put on great matches this year with the likes of Ember Moon, Ruby Riot, and Nikki Cross. She even had a huge Survivor Series moment, being the Sole Survivor for Team RAW. In a vacuum, that's a spectacular year.

    However, the WWE's Goddess simply had a better one. She entered the year as SmackDown Women's Champion, lost the title to Naomi at Elimination Chamber, only to win it back shortly after Naomi vacated the title due to injury, then lost it back to Naomi at WrestleMania 33. Then, she got drafted to RAW, immediately went after Bayley and the RAW Women's Championship, took the title, lost the championship to Sasha Banks at SummerSlam, but won it back eight days afterward. Homegirl basically started the year as champion on one brand and ended the year as champion on the other brand. Hell, she spent more time as champion this calendar year than any other woman in WWE (275 days and counting), including Asuka and Brock Lesnar.

    Alexa Bliss carried the women's division this year and is setting the bar high for 2018 and moving forward. Not bad for the fitness competitor who was often forgotten in the early stages of the Women's Revolution.

    Honorable mentions: Asuka (NXT), Charlotte Flair (SmackDown Live), Toni Storm (Stardom)

    Male Superstar of the Year: AJ Styles (SmackDown Live) and Kenny Omega (NJPW) (tie)

    Two things before we talk about the excellent year both these guys had: (1) this award will also be handed out to a local wrestler so we can show some love to the Philippine wrestling scene, and (2) Kenny Omega had a hell a year, but didn't get as much love as I'd expected at the Smark Henry offices. In fact, if I counted this based on votes alone, AJ Styles would've run away with this award cleanly.

    But here's the case for Kenny Omega's phenomenal year.

    He (and Kazuchika Okada) broke Dave Meltzer's match rating system, having the only three 6-star-matches this year. In doing so, Omega helped bring more audiences from the Western side of the world towards New Japan, establishing himself as the face that they can get behind despite his alignment. This led to him eventually winning the IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship during the G1 Special in Long Beach, California. After that, he made it to the finals of the G1 Climax against Tetsuya Naito, where they'd both have a 5.75-star match. And as if all of that weren't enough, he's now embroiled in a Wrestle Kingdom feud with Chris Jericho, which is surely going to break even more barriers in bringing more eyes towards NJPW. Based on match quality and overall impact alone, I had to give The Cleaner this award alongside his Bullet Club predecessor.

    Now, here's the case of AJ Styles.

    First, some people will tell you that AJ loses points for toiling away on a lesser show in SmackDown Live. Do not let those opinions convince you. The Blue Brand has always been the better show in terms of storytelling, and it's being anchored by one of the most solid all-around performers in The Phenomenal One. SmackDown Live is AJ Styles.

    Second, this guy started and ended the year as WWE Champion. Not that that matters all too much, but it is a show of trust from WWE management, especially after many fans openly wondered if Vince McMahon would ever even acknowledge AJ's greatness the way we already did before he even entered WWE.

    And then there were his matches. Cena/Styles at the Royal Rumble? Easy Match of the Year candidate. Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles at WrestleMania? That match had no right being Match of the Night, and yet, most people considered it the best match on the card. How about the AJ/KO rivalry from this past summer? It totally revitalized the U.S. Championship and elevated it as a title worth fighting an entire summer over. AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal? AJ was the first guy to maximize Jinder's in-ring strengths—something neither Randy Orton nor Shinsuke Nakamura could fully do during their own rivalries with the Modern Day Maharaja. 

    40-year-old AJ Styles isn't as fast or flippity-floppity as his ROH and TNA days. But the fact that he's put all of the tools together as Peak AJ Styles has resulted in some of the best feuds and matches we've seen this year. And that's why AJ Styles is the Male Superstar of the Year.

    Honorable mentions: Roman Reigns (RAW), Braun Strowman (RAW), Tetsuya Naito (NJPW), Kazuchika Okada (NJPW), 

    Local Superstar of the Year: John Sebastian (PWR)

    Delly K. Deza: The obvious choice for local Superstar of the Year would be Chris Panzer. It's hard to argue against the credentials of someone who not only became two-time Kampeon ng Pilipinas, but put on a MOTY candidate against Billy Suede—more on that later—won the first ever 20-person Path of Gold Match, and put up one of the better win-loss records this year.

    But here at Smark Henry, we don't do obvious.

    How do you ignore the story of one man, who not only started the year as PWR Champion, but as a Wrestling Lord & Savior, too? And somewhere along the way, became the first and only Filipino wrestler to compete in three promotions this year, including the Asian super-promotion Asia Wrestling Entertainment (AWE) in Malaysia, while also becoming part-owner of the Philippines' flagship wrestling promotion, and headlining the hottest storyline of 2017?

    Ladies and gentlemen, we want to say Chris Panzer had the best year inside the ring, but there's no arguing that John Sebastian absolutely dominated life both in and out of it, making waves both here and abroad.

    Salute to you, John Sebastian. Enjoy your reign while it lasts. We have a feeling payback is coming your way soon.

    Honorable mention: Chris Panzer (PWR)

    Match of the Year

    Before we get to the proper winner, I have to show some love to two of my personal favorite matches from this year. The first is John Cena vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at this year's Royal Rumble event.

    It was one of the best matches Cena had ever had, and I was ecstatic that AJ got that out of him. You could really feel the gravitas because of all the implications: Cena's 16th world championship was at stake, so was AJ's immense ego and pride after having bested Cena in their prior two outings. The story was pretty simple, and yet it played out so well that anyone watching would be gripped from start to finish. That Cena won doesn't even make me all that mad because he deserved that 16th world title, plus, it was the match that finally made me want to appreciate Cena while there's still time.

    Here's another phenomenal (heh) runner-up. (Are you starting to notice the pattern?)

    Seeing Brock Lesnar give AJ Styles the decency of bumping and selling for him for almost 15 minutes was one of the biggest badges of honor any wrestler could receive. Don't believe me? Ask Dean Ambrose.

    The outcome never really should've been in doubt here, but the fact that this match had me questioning myself all throughout proved how well both men told their story here. The only real downside was how there really was no follow-up for both Brock and AJ post-Survivor Series. They went out there and stole the show... and then they moved the fuck on.

    This match ultimately proved two things: that even Brock Lesnar couldn't deny AJ Styles the performance of a lifetime, which means that somewhere deep down, the Beast actually gives a shit; and that there really is no holding AJ Styles back. When a match's narrative and metanarrative come together to make a classic like this, we all truly win here.

    Match of the Year: Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada, IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Dominion (NJPW)

    This was one of the two 6-star matches that Kenny Omega was part of in 2017, and it was definitely the more impressive one just because of how both he and Okada just tried to beat the shit out of one another for one. Solid. Hour. One-hour broadways don't really happen anymore for many reasons: lack of time on the broadcast, shorter attention-spans, and roster depth. But the NJPW bosses really believed that Omega and Okada had clearly earned it through the story they'd been telling this year.

    If I had to sum this match up in one word, it would be "willpower." This match really tested the will of both men, while also making us question our own will to live in the process. It was a real rollercoaster, taking us through all sorts of emotions, while even making you wonder if Kenny Omega was finally going to win the big one. 

    While Omega ultimately fell short, he did succeed in the bigger goal of expanding the reach of NJPW by further legitimizing its profile in the eyes of non-fans and casuals. People talked about the two guys in Japan who just bludgeoned one another for a whole hour and the fact that Dave Meltzer handed out another 6-star match. If you were skeptical, you at least tuned in to see what all the hype was about.

    The world of pro wrestling only grows from the reach that promotions outside WWE like NJPW continue to enjoy. And it's because of matches like this that help put them on the map, at least for those of you who haven't checked them out yet. If anything, let this be your final reminder that there is more to life outside WWE, and NJPW has become the alternative many wrestling fans have become completely satisfied with.

    Honorable mentions: Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate, U.K. Championship (NXT TakeOver: Chicago), Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada (Wrestle Kingdom 11 and Destruction)

    Local Match of the Year: Chris Panzer vs. "Beautiful" Billy Suede, PWR Championship, Bakbakan sa Bayanihan

    A post shared by PWR (@pwrofficial) on

    Lance Tan Ong: It was the match that further validated Philippine wrestling: a top-notch competitive bout with the heavyweight championship on the line. The grand levels of hype were felt throughout the match, and even the "Kiss Me" spot did not fall out of place in a match of this caliber. It was exactly the match Chris Panzer needed to build up even more credibility as PWR Champion, and Billy Suede was the perfect dance partner. Suede's 10-year experience clearly showed in this match, elevating Panzer to a whole 'nother level. And that crowd reaction following the Beautiful One's win was a genuine level of appreciation for a guy who helped legitimize Panzer, the PWR Championship, and PWR as a whole.

    Honorable mentions: "Beautiful" Billy Suede vs. Jake De Leon (PWR Wrevolution X 2017), Ubusan ng Lahi (PWR Vendetta 2017)

    And now, just to round things out, some minor awards that also deserve some love (or not):

    • Story of the Year: Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn/Shane McMahon vs. Daniel Bryan
    • Worst Story of the Year: Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton
    • "Putangina ayoko na" Award of the Year: The projection of worms on the ring canvas during the Wyatt/Orton WrestleMania match and the House of Horrors Match that soon followed
    • Turn of the Year: Sami Zayn, Jake De Leon
    • Carbon Copy Moment of the Year: The Riott Squad debuts on SmackDown Live one night after Absolution does on RAW
    • Weekly TV Show of the Year: SmackDown Live
    • Most Blood and Skin Shed on Network TV: Killshot and Dante Fox, Hell of War Match, Ultima Lucha Tres
    • The Danny Ainge Award for Lack of Loyalty Between Player and Team: John Cena (for flip-flopping between RAW and SmackDown Live faster than Kim Kardashian's marriage to Kris Humphries)
    • Entrance Theme of the Year: "True Love" (Mike and Maria Kanellis)
    • Clusterfuck Car Crash of the Year: WarGames
    Photos from "Heartbreaker" Hub Pacheco, WWE
    Illustrations by Lynch Imbat


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.

    Disclosure: Smark Henry is independently run and managed by a group of Filipino wrestling fans, but includes members affiliated with the Philippine Wrestling Revolution.
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    Item Reviewed: The Henries: The 2017 Smark Henry Awards Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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