In a year filled with stunning developments, no one shook up the world of professional wrestling more than Becky Lynch, who has turned both WWE and the business as a whole on its head over the last six months by not only winning the hearts and minds of fans across the globe but doing so while standing out as "The Man" in an industry historically dominated by men. The 31-year-old Rebecca Quinn -- largely marginalized by WWE over the last two years despite being a clear fan favorite -- has not only become arguably the most popular superstar in the company, she looks to have forced it to change its plans for its biggest show of the coming year, WrestleMania 35 in New York. And that is why Lynch is the 2018 CBS Sports Wrestler of the Year.
How has she done it? Quite simply by showing a renewed confidence and natural swagger that has been compared to everyone from Steve Austin to Roddy Piper to countryman Conor McGregor. In actuality, the comparisons do not do Lynch justice and hardly explain why she is now "The Man." Lynch has quite simply become the best version of herself, a take-no-prisoners bad-ass who is defying convention by exorcising the demons created from two years of being kept out of the championship picture.
There is no greater paradigm of Lynch's turnaround than the Nov. 12 edition of Raw in a moment that has already become iconic in professional wrestling history. With Survivor Series (one of WWE's showcase pay-per-views) six days away, Lynch -- then the SmackDown women's champion -- surprised at the close of Raw by attacking future opponent Ronda Rousey in the locker room. With Rousey locked in Lynch's signature Dis-Arm-Her submission, Lynch wrenched Rousey's arm nearly out of its socket as both women screamed at the top of their lungs. "You see what happens when the man comes around?!" Lynch yelled, releasing the pent up anger inside her. "Everyone's tough 'til the man comes around! Remember that!"
At no point since joining the company had Rousey, a former UFC women's bantamweight champion and WWE's signature signing, been dominated in that manner. But that was just the beginning for Lynch, who strode from backstage out to the ringside area ready to take on the entire Raw women's roster by herself. The SmackDown women emerged from the crowd as fans rose to their feet, but the ensuing rumble included a massive botch that appeared disastrous but instead turned a signature moment into an iconic one.
Nia Jax clocked Lynch with a right fist, immediately breaking Lynch's nose and causing blood to gush from her face. A dazed Lynch, later diagnosed with a concussion from the shot, gathered herself and finished the segment -- including a steel chair beat down of Rousey -- before leaving through the crowd. With a crimson mask on her face and her arms outstretched to absorb the cheers of the masses, Lynch in that moment became a megastar.
Lynch no longer holds the SmackDown women's title, but it is of little matter. Anyone who needs a title to be "The Man" was never really "The Man" in the first place. Rather, Lynch has built her new reputation on the heels of blistering promos, an A-level social media game and in-ring performances that have seen her shine in two of WWE's best matches of the year -- both within the last three months. Her Survivor Series bout with Rousey, who Lynch now refers to as "Ronnie," was derailed due to the concussion. Flair filled in and began her own feud with Rousey, leading many to speculate the trio will compete in a triple threat match to settle their differences.
Whether that triple threat is planned or WWE decides the Lynch-Rousey showdown does not need Flair, there is no doubt that the booked match should be the first featuring women to main event WrestleMania. It always appeared we were headed that way, likely with a Flair-Rousey bout, though it probably would have been booked as a gesture of diversity. Lynch's rise to stardom has made such a move a necessity. Her rebirth is the hottest thing WWE will have going for it in 2019, and the main event match at WrestleMania is what "The Man" deserves when she comes around.
Lynch did not win CBS Sports Wrestler of the Year by default. Far from it, in fact, as she had massive competition.
The critically-acclaimed Kenny Omega finally reached the mountaintop as IWGP heavyweight champion for New Japan Pro-Wrestling by beating Kazuchika Okada in unarguably the greatest professional wrestling match of all-time this June. Not only that, Omega put on a clinic this calendar year, winning thrilling singles and tag team matches (alongside Kota Ibushi) that may have created the all-time best in-ring resume on paper in a 12-month span. Ibushi himself was tremendous every time he was in the spotlight, including during the G1 Climax tournament he did not win but was clearly the MVP.
In NXT, Johnny Gargano put on one classic match after another, changing his character midway through the year while continuing an epic storyline with former tag team partner Tomasso Ciampa. Even Seth Rollins, despite being in a midcard role for WWE this year, had a case by returning to form as the company's workhorse and a no-dobuter as a repeat future heavyweight champion.
But while each of Omega, Ibushi, Gargano and Rollins were at the top of their games and stood out for their respective brands, the impact Lynch had on WWE and the professional wrestling world over the last six months has likely changed the profession for good -- and for the better.
Let's take a look at the rest of our 2018 CBS Sports professional wrestling awards. Those marked with an asterisk (*) were WWE-only awards. Check out the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast below where we break down each award and its winners while recapping the year that was in WWE and beyond. Subscribe here.
- Wrestler of the Year: Becky Lynch (WWE)
- WWE Male Wrestler of the Year: Johnny Gargano
- NJPW Wrestler of the Year: Kota Ibushi
- Match of the Year: Kenny Omega def. Kazuchika Okada (NJPW Dominion 6.9)
- WWE Match of the Year: Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka (TLC)
- NXT Match of the Year: Andrade "Cien" Almas def. Johnny Gargano (NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia)
- Tag Team of the Year: The Usos (WWE)
- Rookie of the Year: Ronda Rousey (WWE)
- Commentator of the Year: Mauro Ranallo (NXT)
- Comeback Wrestler of the Year: Daniel Bryan (WWE)
- Breakthough Wrestler of the Year*: Buddy Murphy (205 Live)
- Feud of the Year*: Johnny Gargano vs. Tomasso Ciampa (NXT)
- Best Pay-Per-View of the Year*: TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs
- Best Moment of the Year*: Becky Lynch attacks Ronda Rousey on Raw
- Best Promo of the Year*: Daniel Bryan before TLC
- Smack Talker of the Year*: Samoa Joe
- Worst Angle of the Year*: DeGeneration X vs. Brothers of Destruction