Deciding who would be the 2019 wrestler of the year was a tough enough process.
Then we decided to make it tougher by naming tag team and women’s wrestlers of the year. And a breakout wrestler of the year.
2019 was a big year for pro wrestling. We saw the debut of AEW, the continuing rise of NXT, and — well — the occasional flash of hope from Raw and SmackDown.
There were big moments and big angles, but you need wrestlers to make wrestling work. Here are our picks for the 2019 wrestlers of the year.
Breakout Wrestler Of The Year — MJF
MJF’s heel turn on Cody was the least surprising thing to happen in wrestling in 2019.
And it’s even less surprising that he’s 2019’s Breakout Wrestler of the Year.
Mark my words, within five years, MJF will be the top star in pro wrestling. He’s already the best heel in the business. But his promos make me think of the Rock — the fans hate him, but they can’t wait until it’s okay to cheer him.
MJF was part of AEW’s first televised feud with Adam Page, and now he’s taking on AEW’s top babyface. We might be talking about him as Wrestler of the Year in 2020.
For now, he’ll have to settle for Breakout Wrestler of the Year for 2019. Even though he’s better than you. And you know it.
Runner-Up — Keith Lee
Keith Lee is a beast.
WWE has a knack for gravitating toward big guys. But few big guys have the upside of Keith Lee. The guy has become a force to be reckoned with in NXT. And his recent exposure on the main roster in the lead-up to the brand war at Survivor Series has made him an even hotter commodity.
Lee has charisma that’s off-the-charts. And he has great agility and athleticism rare for a guy of his size and stature.
At the beginning of the year, I don’t know if I knew who he was. But as 2019 comes to a close, Keith Lee is making a bigger name for himself. And that’s why he’s the runner-up for Breakout Wrestler of the Year.
Honorable Mention — Sammy Guevara
When AEW launched, Sammy Guevara seemed like he was going to be just another plucky babyface.
Now he’s one of the most over members of the hottest new faction in wrestling.
— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) November 14, 2019
Guevara became a star literally overnight. He faced Cody in the first-ever match on AEW: Dynamite, and at the end of the show he was side-by-side with Chris Jericho.
As AEW begins to consider a secondary singles title, the future is bright indeed for Sammy Guevara. It was tough not to name him Breakout Wrestler of the Year.
Tag Team Of The Year — Lucha Bros.
Somewhere down the road, we’ll look at 2019 as the year tag team wrestling came back.
And in 2019, there were no better or more prolific tag team wrestlers of the year than the Lucha Bros.
Pentagon, Jr. and Rey Fenix lit the ring up wherever they went in 2019. Whether it be CMLL, where they claimed the AAA Tag Team Championship. And this is to say nothing of their work in AEW.
While they failed to claim the AEW Tag Team Championship, the Lucha Bros. continue to have the best matches on the card. And it seems like their feud with SoCal Uncensored is going to be a hallmark of the coming year in 2020.
They’ve been everywhere, and they’ve done everything. And yet the sky is the limit for this team. The Lucha Bros. are without question the Tag Team Wrestlers of the Year.
Runners-Up — Undisputed Era
Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish absolutely owned the NXT tag team division. And this is a field that included, at various points, the Viking War Raiders Experience and the Street Profits. With respect to the Inner Circle, the Undisputed Era is the strongest faction in pro wrestling.
And any good faction needs a tag team at its core. And Fish and O’Reilly are the spine of the Undisputed Era. Their old-school approach evokes the Revival, but they combine their straight-up mat skills with the cockiness of the Outsiders or the Midnight Express.
Any other year, Fish and O’Reilly would be tag team wrestlers of the year.
The Young Bucks, despite my personal distaste for their lack of storytelling ability in the ring, absolutely belong in this conversation. And I have to give them props for being strong in six-man action and for not using their EVP positions to create opportunity for themselves.
Private Party and the Street Profits both had banner years. And despite mangling their debut on the main roster, the Viking Raiders made waves in 2019. Despite being in contract limbo, the Revival continue to put together great matches despite what they have to work with. And the same can be said of Anderson and Gallows.
Tag team wrestling has gone by the wayside in recent years, but 2019 may have brought it back from the dead. Any one of the teams mentioned could have a legitimate claim to being the tag team wrestlers of the year.
Women’s Wrestler Of The Year — Becky Lynch
It had to be the Man.
Some fans may be tired of Becky Lynch already (despite clamoring for her at the end of 2018). But no one in any women’s division made the impact that Becky Lynch made in 2019.
She claimed two championships in the main event of WrestleMania 35. The Man headlined a PPV alongside the Universal Champion in mixed-tag action. And Lynch faced both the NXT and SmackDown Women’s Champions in the main event of Survivor Series 2019.
The sheer emotion of Lynch’s feud with Ronda Rousey stretching from the Royal Rumble through WrestleMania kept interest in Raw and SmackDown alive. And considering how awful both of those shows are, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
And she’s come as close as any female wrestler has in years to breaking through to the mainstream.
The Man definitely deserves props as the 2019 Women’s Wrestler of the Year.
Runner-Up — Shayna Baszler
There is no more dominant woman in all of wrestling than Shayna Baszler.
The only reason the Queen of Spades isn’t the women’s wrestler of the year is that she’s up against a force of nature in Becky Lynch. Oh, and she did tap that force of nature out at Survivor Series 2019, by the way.
Baszler has taken on everything the NXT women’s division can throw at her. And she’s still the NXT Women’s Champion. As with the Undisputed Era, in any other year, Baszler would be the women’s wrestler of the year without question.
I’ve been skeptical of Baszler’s in-ring skillset. She still relies a little too much on her MMA background. But the way she carries herself, and the sheer hate she evokes from crowds are signs that she gets the wrestling industry like few women do. Especially women with as comparatively little in-ring experience as she has.
I still think Asuka should quit. Twice.
This time last year, Asuka was positioned much as Baszler is now. Unbeatable and untouchable. Since losing the SmackDown Women’s Championship to Charlotte Flair in the run-up to WrestleMania, she’s been relegated to battle royals and tag team matches. But her resurgence as part of the Kabuki Warriors and their run as WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions has given her new life. And it’s shown that Asuka can make the best of whatever she’s given.
Riho also deserves some props, given that she became the first-ever AEW Women’s Champion this year. Bayley took a poorly-conceived heel turn and made the best of it that she possibly could. Not as much competition for women’s wrestler of the year here, and this definitely wasn’t as good a year for women’s wrestling as some previous years. But women’s wrestling is still poised to take the limelight in pro wrestling.
Men’s Wrestler Of The Year — Adam Cole (Bay-Bay)
So considering I’ve spent so much of 2019 gushing over AEW and Chris Jericho, why is Adam Cole the Men’s Wrestler of the Year?
Because, simply put, he was the best wrestler of the year.
The man is incapable of having a bad match. His two matches with Johnny Gargano at NXT TakeOver: New York and NXT TakeOver XXV are two of the best-ever WWE matches period. And his time with the NXT Championship around his waist has made that championship a true world championship.
While past NXT Champions have given that belt prestige, Cole is the first champion to make the title seem like its own entity. In the past, the NXT Champion has been the guy who’s clearly getting the next call-up. Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe. They elevated the title, but it was clear from the moment their hands were raised that they were moving on.
Adam Cole has had the belt for months, and NXT has soared to new heights with him as the man.
The guy has five-star matches without breaking a sweat (but not without nearly killing himself), and he gives an already-prestigious championship more credibility. If that isn’t Wrestler of the Year material, I don’t know what is.
Runner-Up — Chris Jericho
Again. Any other year.
This was a coin-flip decision, as Jericho can claim much the same success as Cole. AEW kind of has to refer to him as the “greatest of all time,” because he’s the only real “legend” on their roster.
But Jericho in 2019 laid legitimate claim to a place on pro wrestling’s Mount Rushmore. He reinvented his character (again), and he gives AEW an instant credibility they couldn’t claim otherwise. Jericho’s matches with Kenny Omega, Adam Page, and Cody were among the best of his career, and I don’t think they’ve scratched the surface of what Jericho still has in the tank.
And the guy is 49 years old. It’s entirely possible that we’ll be talking about Chris Jericho as 2020’s Wrestler of the Year.
Cody is the most over babyface in all of professional wrestling.
The inaugural AEW pay-per-view, Double or Nothing, was going to be well-remembered no matter what. But Cody’s match with his brother, Dustin Rhodes, made it iconic. That match is a legit contender for Match of the Year, and Cody riding the line between face and heel in that contest is a big reason why.
Despite a disastrous run as the Universal Champion and a more disastrous run on Twitter, Seth Rollins belongs in this conversation as well. He had two clean wins over Brock Lesnar in a single year, and not many people can say that. In any year.
The aforementioned Johnny Gargano had his big moment, defeating Cole at NXT TakeOver: New York and had a classic contest with Velveteen Dream in January. And Gargano’s former partner, Tomaso Ciampa, had an epic comeback in the latter part of the year, showing he’s still got it after career-threatening neck surgery.
Jon Moxley’s own character reinvention merits serious talk for him as a contender. His work in NJPW was fantastic, and his run on AEW where he continues to feed off of his feelings of escaping from WWE make for classic TV every week.
It was definitely tough deciding the men’s wrestler of the year, as the table was really crowded this year.
Pro wrestling truly had a transformative year in 2019.
We internet wrestling pundits like to talk about the booking and the business deals. But in the end, it’s the wrestlers that make the product.
This year’s wrestlers of the year went above and beyond. It’s the guys and gals who bust their butts in the ring that make this sport so fun to watch.
Here’s to another great conversation and more tough decisions when crowning the 2020 wrestlers of the year.
Feature image courtesy of WWE.