First off, all of us here at the Pro Wrestling Illustrated family of magazines wish all of you and your families a happy and healthy New Year. We’d also like to express our deep appreciation to our readers for another year of your loyalty. We’re committed to continuing to deliver to you the highest quality pro wrestling journalism in 2011 and beyond.
If you’ve checked out our official web site, or Stu Saks’ blog item below, you know by now that Randy Orton has been voted PWI’s 2010 Wrestler of the Year. I can’t argue with the fans, as “The Viper” had another banner year that included a two-month reign as WWE heavyweight champion, and a surprising transformation from one of WWE’s most reviled villains to one of its most popular heroes.
It may be a bit early for you to start sending in those ballots, but here on the last day of 2010, it’s worth looking 12 months ahead and wondering who may be in the prestigious slot of Wrestler of the Year for 2011.
For five years now, the award has been dominated by WWE’s three perennial top acts—Orton (who won it last year), Triple-H (who won it in 2008) and John Cena (who won it in 2006 and 2007.) It remains very likely that one of those three men will earn himself another Wrestler of the Year plaque next year.
At just 30 years old, it’s entirely possible that Orton has not yet reached his peak. Maybe he will do so in 2011. As good as he was in 2010, it’s clear that he still has a ways to go in developing a personality that fans will want to cheer. Orton is likely to be in the top mix at WrestleMania XXVI, maybe even defending the heavyweight title if he can defeat The Miz for it before then.
Triple-H is expected back in the ring following his lengthy hiatus soon, and it’s almost a lock that he’ll win his 14th world title before 2011 is through. However, now in his 40s and dedicating more of his time to his corporate responsibilities in WWE and to his family, it could be that Triple-H plays a smaller role in WWE’s on air product than in recent years. (I wouldn’t count on it.)
Cena is always a top candidate for any award recognizing achievement in wrestling. He remains, by far, wrestling’s top attraction. And while many fans will never give him credit for it, he’s also one of the sport’s most talented performers. If he doesn’t get injured, it’s a given that he will remain the centerpiece of WWE for another year, headline another WrestleMania, and add at least another world title reign to his resume.
But that could be a very big “if.” Earlier this week, Cena reportedly suffered a leg injury during a live event in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. WWE still has not released any official information about the severity of the injury, although Jim Ross has indicated that it may be less serious than initially feared. Even if he does make it back to the ring fairly soon, at the rate that Cena’s extending himself, it’s not unlikely that he’ll suffer another injury that could sideline him in 2011.
It’s possible that someone else could sneak in and take Wrestler of the Year honors for the first time in 2011. The Miz is only weeks into his first full-fledged run as a main eventer, and has impressed many with his confidence, speaking ability, and wrestling prowess. If he stays on this track, he’ll certainly be a top vote-getter come next year. CM Punk has shown new depth to his personality since returning to the Raw brand, initially as a commentator and most recently as the new head of The Nexus. He could have a very big year in 2011. Sheamus remains one of the most ambitious wrestlers to grace a WWE ring in years, and won’t be denied his opportunity to break through to most elite level of WWE stardom in 2011.
Let’s not forget TNA. Kurt Angle is primed to return to the ring in January, and reclaim his throne as the very best wrestler in all of the sport. If TNA world champ Jeff Hardy could square away his legal and personal problems and focus on his job, maybe he could return to the heights he reached in WWE in 2009, and help elevate TNA along the way. After becoming the first ever TNA wrestler to top the PWI 500, AJ Styles’ stock has dropped considerably. But with a few breaks, and lots of hustle, Styles could make his biggest impact so far in 2011. And then there’s Rob Van Dam, who is yet to try to reclaim the world title that was stripped from him in August. If he does so, he could be on the minds of voters come next fall.
How about a real dark horse? Might Daniel Bryan convince voters he really is “the best in the world”? Could Alberto Del Rio put his money where his big mouth is and dominate the Smackdown brand in 2011? Is it even possible that John Morrison defeats his former tag team partner to win the WWE heavyweight title this Monday, and holds onto it through much of next year?
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about following wrestling in the New Year. We hope you’ll follow along with us.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer