Meatless Rib Awards for 2017

It’s time to reveal the Meatless Rib awards for the year 2017 in wrestling (well, sometimes just part of the year)! (You can see all of the nominees in two previous posts: part one and part two.)

Best Streaming Service: Stardom World

2017 was my first year watching Stardom, but due to Stardom World’s excellent features it was very easy to get up to speed with the major wrestlers and their personalities, due to regular pre-match promos with English subtitles. The way they upload matches one at a time can make it easy to fall behind on the product (just due to not having a regular/predictable time in mind for watching Stardom), but it also makes it easy to focus on the most important matches (typically: matches from tournaments or matches for championships).

Best Commentator: Corey Graves

Corey Graves is a really incredible talent. He does color commentary for tons of hours of WWE action, and he stays interesting throughout. He strikes a rare, difficult balance of heelish, funny, and charismatic, and he makes an often-grating WWE commentary situation a lot more enjoyable than it would be without him.

Most Underutilized: Carmella

Carmella wins this category for a few simple reasons. First, she’s just never given enough wrestling time to shine, and I thought that she was showing a ton of promise towards the end of her time in NXT. But perhaps more importantly: she won the Money in the Bank briefcase (twice, arguably), not that you would know it from watching WWE shows. She has almost never been put in the spotlight to even tease a cash-in, which has buried both her and the whole Money in the Bank gimmick. It’s especially absurd given how liberally the Smackdown Women’s Championship has been passed around since its inception.

Furthermore, her reasonably interesting storyline with James Ellsworth just never really paid off well. That was an interesting, unusual relationship that WWE just kind of gave up on, and it’s all disappointing. Hopefully Carmella gets more of a platform in 2018. (At least a cash-in attempt!)

Most Improved, Professional or Kayfabe Position: Kenny Omega

I mean, it’s hard to overstate how much Kenny Omega lit the wrestling world on fire in 2017. In all frankness, he and Kazuchika Okada got my eyes on New Japan Pro Wrestling after their Wrestle Kingdom 11 classic. It’s not like Omega was in a pit of obscurity before that, but I just have a hard time thinking of someone whose stock has risen more in the past year.

Most Improved, Talent: Baron Corbin

I get the impression that I’m one of the few people who enjoy Corbin as a performer. Now, don’t get me wrong: throughout his NXT run and even into his main roster work, I thought he was boring and unconvincing.

But I think he’s really grown into an effective heel in the past year! He’s had really good matches on a pretty regular basis, and I really appreciate his mannerisms and in-ring banter. I also feel like he has a fairly unique (and effective) moveset in a regrettably homogenous company.

So mark me down as going to bat for Corbin!

Best Faction: Bullet Club

Bullet Club wins this (if only by volume). Like their leader Kenny Omega, it’s hard to overstate their impact on the entire industry in 2017. Between their shirts flying off Hot Topic racks, the WWE “selling for them” (“too sweet”, etc), and their members’ drawing power (for both wrestling shows and YouTube videos)… it’s just impossible to deny the Bullet Club’s impact in 2017.

Best Tag Team: The Young Bucks

Ditto. Much of the Bullet Club’s success is directly related to the success of the Young Bucks (and Kenny Omega). But beyond all of that, there’s just a really effective tag team in Nick and Matt Jackson, too. They’re a lot more creative and fundamentally effective than they’re given credit for, and I think WWE’s legal action against them only proved that even more. Their postmodernist “Degeneration Y” schtick was basically lawyered away from them, and they proved to the skeptics that they are actually two of the most innovative, talented people in the business. They’ve continued to have great matches and be otherwise entertaining/successful… crotch chops be damned.

Best Singles Performer, Women: Charlotte Flair

For a long time, I had felt that Charlotte was a top heel in WWE. She’s been superlatively convincing on the mic for a long time (and very good in matches, too), but what really makes her a clear choice for this award is how she was able to pivot into a babyface role towards the end of 2017. Not everybody is capable of pulling off both kinds of characters, and it’s a testament to her talent that she can.

Best Singles Performer, Men: Kevin Owens

Owens had a lot of great wrestlers in this category with him and—while he may not necessarily beat all of them in regard to pure match quality—he is the most consistently entertaining of the bunch whether it’s on the mic (in whatever capacity) or in the ring. I simply see him as the most complete option for the category due to his ability to make virtually anything work (and work well). Even some of his less celebrated feuds of 2017 were always interesting to me (and, while I’m on the subject, I think his United States Championship program was criminally underrated).

“SJW” Wrestler of the Year: Sami Zayn

In large part due to his humanitarian efforts for Syria, Sami Zayn is Meatless Rib’s “social justice warrior” wrestler of the year. Even with his new heelish persona, he sticks out as one of the most socially-engaged individuals in the industry, so Meatless Rib is happy to celebrate him as such.

Vegetarian Wrestler of the Year: Pete Dunne

This was a tough choice! It’s been a big year for meatless pro wrestlers (which is a big reason why this website was founded), but I think you have to look at Pete Dunne (vegan!) as having the biggest year of them all. His success both in WWE and elsewhere makes him feel like the best pick, but all of the nominees (all of whom are full-on vegans) had great years.

Vegan-Friendly” Match of the (Quarter) Year: Zack Sabre Jr. (vegan!) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Destruction in Hiroshima 2017

I recently watched this match for a second time to help decide this award, and I feel like I should have given it an even higher score than I originally did. For anybody who has the patience for carefully-paced, mat-based wrestling, this is just such a beautiful bout. Also, I want to note that—given how new I was to NJPW in 2017—it sort of took me until this point in the year to realize “oh, yeah, Tanahashi consistently puts on great matches”. Up until then, I wouldn’t really get hugely excited for his matches (probably partly due to not knowing his character or history as well as I could). I don’t make that mistake anymore.

NJPW Match of the (Quarter) Year: Kota Ibushi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Power Struggle 2017

Due to the ascent of Tetsuya Naito and the blockbuster appeal of Omega & company (including his opponents), it’s been sadly easy to overlook Tanahashi’s 2017. This match with Ibushi is a complete classic, yet I have a strong feeling that it will be forgotten. Meatless Rib’s ability to recognize it is kind of a funny, fortunate situation (due to the site only having a few months’ worth of match ratings), but I’m really proud to give it some praise. I hope some folks will go back and watch it again after reading this, because it’s seriously great.

PROGRESS Match of the (Quarter) Year: Travis Banks (vegan!) vs Keith Lee, Chapter 56

Both of these guys really impressed me this year, and when they went head-to-head for the PROGRESS World Championship, it was fantastic. Just a great, fun, well-done match.

PWG Match of the (Quarter) Year: Donovan Dijak vs Keith Lee, Battle of Los Angeles: Final Stage

This had some unbelievable spots that made my jaw drop even on second viewing, but there’s just such an amazing emotional peak when these two guys call back to a tag team match they had earlier in the weekend. You must watch this match.

ROH Match of the (Quarter) Year: Search & Destroy (Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley, Jay White, & Jonathan Grisham) vs. Bullet Club (Young Bucks, Cody, & Hangman Page), Global Wars: Chicago

Not only did this match’s moments “pull from the headlines” of the Bucks’ real-life issues with the WWE, but it was a compelling, action-packed bout from start to finish. It may be an unexpected pick for five stars, but that’s what it earned from Meatless Rib.

Stardom Match of the (Quarter) Year: Mayu Iwatani vs Kagetsu, September 18

This was just an incalculably intense bout that completely earned its five-star rating from Meatless Rib. Obvious stakes and fantastic performances made this a brilliant, standout match for Stardom.

WWE Match of the (Quarter) Year: Aleister Black vs Velveteen Dream, NXT TakeOver: WarGames

This was just such a wonderfully dramatic display, with a solid build and real emotional stakes.

Non-Match of the (Quarter) Year: Daniel Bryan (veg*n!), Kevin Owens, & Sami Zayn, WWE Smackdown Live Opening Segment, October 17th

(You can see the YouTube version of this segment here.)

Sami’s heel turn, basically. Tons of entertainment value but also a lot of emotional credibility! The latter is so often lacking in WWE, but this segment was super impactful and memorable.

Match of the (Quarter) Year: Kota Ibushi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Power Struggle 2017

I already praised it above as New Japan’s Match of the (Quarter) Year, but I can’t overstate my enthusiasm for this match. There’s just so much emotion flowing in this match and I think that it’s virtually a crime that it’s liable to get lost in the shuffle when people look back on 2017. These two guys are just absolute masters of communicating emotion via wrestling matches, and having them both in the ring against each other is a wonderful thing to behold.

(In case you’ve read down to here and are still wondering about who was nominated for these awards: you can click to see part one and part two of the nominees.)

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