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Gaffney's Mid-Year 2024 Pro Wrestling Awards

Eventful would be the perfect adjective to describe the opening six months of this year in Pro Wrestling. WrestleMania season was as good as it's ever been; the concept of hate has never been more prevalent in the industry, from the on-screen action to AEW rating discourse and everywhere in between then last but not least, some genuine all-time moments and matches everywhere you look.

With AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door being the only major event left in the opening half of the year, I thought it would be fun to go through and see who and what has been the best of the best in 2024 and, in one case, the worst (spoiler: a 53-year-old man from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who needs to get off of my TV screen).

Booker of the Year - Shawn Michaels (WWE NXT)

Honorable Mentions: N/A

Ever since Michaels found his groove running WWE's developmental brand, he hasn't brought things back to a Triple H-era feel but rather an exceptional balance between that and "NXT 2.0," with compelling television and showcasing a lot of fresh and exciting talent. 2024 has been no different.

HBK did a great job with the entire slow-burned Trick Williams-Carmelo Hayes storyline, one which NXT had to absolutely nail, and has put a couple of blue-chip prospects in the form of Oba Femi and Je'Von Evans in the perfect spot to succeed down in Orlando this year for starters. Never mind the slew of exciting women NXT has to offer, and then the TNA partnership, allowing him to showcase people like Jordynne Grace and Joe Hendry.

Please take my word for it. It's not Black and Gold NXT, and that's fine, but Michaels' has proven he's as good a showrunner as he was an in-ring performer, and he's in the middle of a banner year right now.

Best Gimmick - The Rock "Final Boss"

Honorable Mention: "Elite" Okada

The now seemingly once every-10-year cycle of fans dictating how a major WrestleMania angle goes was directly responsible for what shouldn't even be a hot take at this point: The Rock at the best he's ever been on WWE programming. Brian Gewirtz or anyone else in the camp of Face Rock vs. Roman can say whatever they want, but there was no universe where that could've been better than what we ended up getting with ol' Dwayne/Spencer Strasmore. Every single segment he took part in, from that Vegas event to the night after WrestleMania, was absolute gold. So much so that he superceded Roman Reigns by about Week 3 of the Final Boss run.

Asking the question, "What if Hollywood Rock had financial stakes in WWE and was somehow more menacing?" The Final Boss gimmick succeeded in doing what it was supposed to be: being one last major hurdle for Cody Rhodes before beating Roman Reigns. Even eating a pin 24 hours earlier didn't hurt him too much, if you ask me; plus, it sets up a one-on-one Cody vs. Rock clash with several million dollars written all over it. On a final note, bringing back the Hollywood Rock theme (Jim Johnston's best-ever work, in my opinion) was a sensational choice.

Worst Gimmick - Chris Jericho, "The Learning Tree"

Honorable Mentions: N/A

You know when you watched an all-timer in sports who you knew was cooked but was still along for the ride nonetheless? Richard Petty in 90s NASCAR, Celtics Shaq, Cardinals Emmitt Smith, etc. That's been Chris Jericho in AEW for the better part of the last 18 months. He's elevated next to no one via his presence (Daniel Garcia has done more for himself on his own than with him, and that's a fact), can't work high-quality matches anymore, and has struck an impossible balance of having go away heat, while also simultaneously getting zero reaction from fans.

The post-irony element of Jericho's new "Learning Tree" gimmick is infuriating on many levels and, surprisingly, doesn't add any positives to a performer who's been a black hole on AEW TV for too long. How about a recurring promo segment called "TV Time with Chris Jericho"? Get it? Because fans are furious that he still gets full TV segments built around him, while a guy like Ricky Starks has been a non-factor for months?

Don't worry; it's gotten worse since Jericho ultimately killed any momentum or aura Hook had by beating him clean for the FTW title via a baseball bat hit to the head. By all accounts, he's a change the channel level of performer in 2024, and I doubt that changes. Moral of the story: Meta commentary about you being washed doesn't magically make you un-washed.

Best on Promos - The Rock

Honorable Mentions: Swerve Strickland, Toni Storm, Carmelo Hayes, Jon Moxley

The fastball not only hits triple digits still, but the command is as good now as it was back in the Attitude Era. The Rock's ability to dictate the pace of a conversation and work a crowd was never in question, but some of the best promos of his entire career have come within the last three months, two of which are several minute-long Instagram reels. As far as TV goes, though, that first Heel promo in Salt Lake City, and then in the middle of beating the brakes off of Cody Rhodes in Chicago, jump out immediately, in addition to the Rock Concert in Memphis.

PPV/PLE of the Year - All Elite Wrestling Dyntasy

Honorable Mentions: WrestleMania XL Night 2, All Elite Wrestling Revolution, WWE Backlash, NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka

Outside of a match involving a certain 53-year-old man going 15 minutes longer than it should've, Dynasty was the best PPV in AEW history, and quite frankly, it's by a good margin, which is saying a lot given how good Revolution was in both 2020 and 2024. Tons of feel-good stories in this one, with Swerve Strickland and Willow Nightengale getting their moments in the sun, plus Okada vs. PAC, then Danielson vs. Ospreay were nothing short of excellent. Erase the Jericho match from this show (and my mind, please, I'm begging), and this would be the wall-to-wall reason why "Where the Best Wrestle" is a fitting slogan for All Elite Wrestling.

Feud of the Year - Cody Rhodes vs. The Rock (w/Bloodline)

Honorable Mentions: Trick Williams vs. Carmelo Hayes, Liv Morgan vs. Rhea Ripley, Drew McIntyre vs. CM Punk, Bayley vs. Iyo Sky

Again, there was NO SCENARIO where Face Rock vs. Heel Roman would've been better than what happened on WWE programming from Feburary to April. For all the praise the Rock deserves for his role in the 'Mania buildup, Cody Rhodes played his part perfectly the entire way, culminating in what's a top-three Monday Night Raw ending (episode as well) in the show's 30 years of history in Chicago.

"The Third Annual Christian Cage Hater of the Year" - Drew McIntyre (See entire CM Punk feud)

Honorable Mentions: Liv Morgan (Attempting to seduce Rhea Ripley's work husband after injuring her), The Elite (Instantly jumping Kenny Omega after announcing he needed surgery to deal with his Diverticulitis), Christian Cage (2 Baker Court), Carmelo Hayes (REALLY didn't want to see his boy find success), Roman Reigns (Hated Seth Rollins so much for breaking up The Shield, that he willingly chose to get a free chair shot in, ending his 1000+ day title reign as consequence)

"I prayed for this, and it happened" needed all of about five seconds to become an instant classic one-liner by Drew McIntyre, and he's been on CM Punk's neck ever since that faithful night after the Royal Rumble. What the Rock was doing on social media to advance his own angle overshadowed things, but how McIntyre essentially weaponized Twitter to his advantage as Punk was on the sidelines was sensational. From the tombstone meme turning into a top-selling t-shirt to spoofing CM Punk's All Out presser and then firing off a tweet MID WORLD TITLE MATCH, McIntyre has mastered the art of tweeting, and more so hating. To me, that's beautiful.

Although hating CM Punk ended his World Title reign after five minutes and directly led to Punk costing him another reign on home soil, McIntyre did get his lick back in glorious fashion, in his hometown, no less! Do you know how much you have to hate someone to repeatedly bash them into an industrial sliding door, then carry their lifeless, bloody corpse down a hallway and out into an arena IN HIS OWN CITY??? IN FRONT OF HIS PEOPLE???

Match of the Year - Will Ospreay vs. Bryan Danielson (All Elite Wrestling Dynasty)

Honorable Mentions: Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns (WrestleMania XL Night 2), Michael Oku vs. Will Ospreay (RevPro High Stakes), Cody Rhodes vs. AJ Styles (WWE Backlash), Bryan Danielson vs. Kazuchika Okada (Wrestle Kingdom 18)

As someone who wasn't the biggest Will Ospreay guy before, say, 2022, the match catalog he's put up in 2024 alone is already all-time worthy. The two honorable mentions he has listed here, plus clashes with Konosuke Takeshita, Kyle Fletcher, and then an insane 5v5 cage match in Osaka, are the clear standouts so far.

Building matches around the concept of the clash itself being a "Dream Match" has lost its luster for me ever since Styles vs. Nakamura fell flat at WrestleMania 38. Still, I was naturally intrigued, given the two men involved here. Spoiler: The "Dream Match" billing was well warranted. In what might be the only time Ospreay and Danielson shared a ring, they put together a 33-minute masterpiece with the best ending segment to an AEW match in the company's history. It is probably my third favorite match ever, behind only Punk vs. Cena MITB 2011 and Ospreay vs. Omega last year at Forbidden Door.

Women's Wrestler of the Year - Willow Nightingale

Honorable Mentions: Toni Storm, Iyo Sky, Jordynne Grace, Bayley, Mariah May, Mayu Iwatani

Something Triple H said the night Cody Rhodes won the WWE PPV that stuck with me is how hard it is to build a natural babyface nowadays, which is mostly correct. Just look at Cody in AEW and in WWE, essentially running the same gimmick, with polar opposite crowd receptions. He's simply being himself, and for that crowd, it works. That can also be said of Willow Nightingale, who's gotten herself over naturally with AEW fans and has become a significant fixture on the women's side of things in 2024.

Although her TNT title reign was shortlived, the best for Nightingale in 2024 is on the horizon, mainly factoring in her newest feud with former friend and fellow New Yorker Kris Statlander. I wouldn't be shocked if they circle back on Mercedes Mone and her again. Overall, her combination of in-ring work, on-the-mic charisma, connection with the audience, with or without a belt, is tough to ignore. Had Rhea Ripley not gone down after 'Mania, Nightingale wouldn't have been too far off of her; she's been that good in my book.

Men's Wrestler of the Year - Will Ospreay

Honorable Mentions: Cody Rhodes, GUNTHER, Swerve Strickland, Drew McIntyre, Bryan Danielson

The transition from New Japan and the British Indies to AEW hasn't slowed down Will Ospreay in the slightest. In fact, this might be the single best year of his career, with six days left in June still. The biggest thing I was looking to see once he got over here was how good of a promo he could be on TV, and having seen him live in the flesh at Big Business, I can safely say he's a much better promo than I'd have given him credit for a few years ago. His latest war of words with Swerve Strickland last week on Dynamite was his best promo since he's gotten over here full-time, going with him barb for barb in an emotionally charged segment.

I don't have to say a ton about the quality of his in-ring work since that has spoken for itself for a while now, but Ospreay has shown American audiences that he's a legit five-tool player in the world of Pro Wrestling this year. If he can put together as good a back nine as he did front nine, we could discuss this as one of the greatest individual years in modern pro wrestling history.

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