wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Thirteen) – Csonka Award For Hardest Working Performers of 2020

January 16, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Hiromu Takahashi NJPW

Welcome back to Part Thirteen of the 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards of 2020! The Year-End Awards have been out for a couple of years but they’re back, and here’s how they work. For the next couple of weeks, we will present our top choices for a particular topic relating to wrestling in 2020. All the writers here on 411 will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic and the end, based on where all of the votes rank on people’s list, we will create an overall Top 5 list. It looks a little like this…

1st – 5
2nd – 4
3rd – 3
4th – 2
5th – 1

Once everyone’s had their say, we will tally the scores and get our overall top 5. Tonight we’re concluding the awards with a new yearly award, in honor of the one and only Larry Csonka. I wanted to do something to honor Larry with the awards, which were always his baby each year when it came to end-of-year stuff. I had some ideas percolating in my head, but it was Steve Cook who came up with the idea of paying tribute to Larry’s incredible work ethic by naming the Hardest Working Performer of the year. And that’s what we’re doing. So without further ado, let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. Cody
4. Xavier Woods
3. T-Bar
2. Bayley & Sasha Banks

1. Hiromu Takahashi – These are in almost no particular order aside from Hiromu. Look, I know he came back from his broken neck in late 2019, but we didn’t do these awards last year. He came back from a broken neck and just, ho-hum, kept performing at the ludicrously high bar he’s always set for himself. He’s more superhuman than anything, but I’m sure he worked hard to get where he is. Sasha and Bayley were CARRYING WWE TV for several months this year, double-handedly making everything more worth watching. Snicker if you will at “T-Bar” and Retribution, but Dijakovic’s Twitter game is working harder to make Retribution interesting than anything WWE Creative is doing. Xavier Woods worked his way back from a serious injury while also putting out so many fantastic YouTube clips on UpUpDownDown AND positioning himself for a gig with the returning G4. Cody just helps run the second biggest company in America when he isn’t putting on intense and brutal matches with the likes of Brodie Lee and MJF.

Jeffrey Harris

5. Bayley
4. Sasha Banks
3. Rhea Ripley
2. Tetsuya Naito

1. Kenny Omega – Once again, this was a tough call as there’s clearly been a lot of tough and hard creative work in 2020. However, even before 2020 ended, Omega was doing both double-duty between AEW and becoming a recurring onscreen character in Impact Wrestling and being at the center of one of the hottest angles of the year that will likely carry wrestling through most of the mystery that awaits us in 2020. Omega was not only a consistently exceptional performer throughout 2020, he was also doing everything between his day-to-day EVP duties with AEW. And he’s clearly been busy helping launch the AEW Games, which he was at the center of as well. I definitely view Omega as a type of Renaissance Man for wrestling, not just for what he does inside the ring but out of it as well. He can wear many hats, and he’s an artisan. If there is one wrestler I’m most excited about as the year comes to a close and I’m most excited to see more from next year, that name is Kenny Omega.

Steve Cook

5. Jeff Cobb
4. Hiroshi Tanahashi
3. Kota Ibushi
2. Shingo Takagi

1. Tomohiro Ishii – When I think of Larry and his impact on 411, along with Internet writing in general, one thing that comes to mind is his insane level of dedication. I’m pretty sure he averaged at least one show review per day during his tenure here, and I might not be giving him enough credit. Might be closer to two. Guy was constantly reviewing and writing about wrestling, and was always the hardest working writer I knew. So it makes sense for this award to go to the hardest working pro wrestler.

So how do we determine this? Good question! My first idea was to go to the Internet Wrestling Database, which compiled a list of wrestlers with the most appearances in 2020. Larry always had the most articles posted on 411 every year, so this makes sense to me. As it turns out, New Japan wrestlers pretty well dominated the top 10. Which is perfect, since Larry loved New Japan above all other promotions over the past ten years or so. I always went to him for match recommendations since he knew what I liked, and am still looking for a replacement on that account.

Shingo Takagi had the most matches. I’ve been a fan going back to his ROH excursion in the mid-2000s where he had the most glorious of mullets. However, I scrolled down the list, and sitting there in the top 10 was a man that I remember Larry tweeting about more than any other NJPW wrestler: BIG TOM ISHII! I’m a big fan of Ishii too, there’s nothing better than when he’s in there against somebody that’s willing to throw down. My style of Japanese wrestling there.

As a Gemini, I could make the argument for either one. So I went to a tie-breaker. The Top Rated Matches of 2020, via Dave Meltzer. Larry liked Dave, so it makes sense. Ishii’s name appears fourteen times, the most of any name I typed into the “Find” function. Pretty sure I got all the big ones, too. Shingo? Thirteen, tied with Kota Ibushi for second. Tough break. Big Tom gets it. I think Larry would approve

Len Archibald

5. Cody
4. Pat McAfee
3. FTR
2. Io Shirai

1. Becky Lynch – The last Monday Night Raw Larry Csonka reviewed before he passed was the episode where Becky Lynch revealed she was expecting and awarded the Raw Women’s Title to Asuka. If there was a “Moment of the Year” award, this would get my vote: a moment of pure realism, joy, a (momentary) passing of the torch and the reminder that more than anything – more than the dives, locking holds, stiff strikes, and the blood, sweat and tears that go into being an elite professional wrestler, life is precious and family is paramount. Larry was the hardest working man in professional wrestling writing while Becky was the hardest working superstar as the face of WWE. While I have appreciated the efforts of all performers from every promotion – the storylines that have engaged me and the characters that have given me reason to cheer or curse, I am picking the performer that best reflects the celebration of life we should embrace when it comes to Larry Csonka. Working at the top of your game as the face of the company, then carrying a child for nine months then delivering said child is hard work. Being a mother is hard work. Then the eventual decision to continue being that mother while training to come back with a sure fire goal of trying to main event WrestleMania again? Probably the hardest work any professional wrestler will have to undertake(r). Larry was a family man committed to his wife and daughters…a bond that Becky (and Seth Rollins) will now experience.

Jake Chambers

5. Sasha Banks
4. Cody
3. Drew McIntyre
2. Johnny Gargano

1. Hiroshi Tanahashi – I really debated over Tanahashi or Gargano for this honour, as neither seemed to take a break this year and kept providing the great matches and entertainment they have been known for their whole careers. However, in the true spirit of Larry Csonka, who we all know worked so hard and kept up a constant level of quality output, I’m going with the older Tanahashi for continuing to prove that age is nothing but a number.

Around 2015, the popular narrative about Tanahashi was that he was too old, broken down and needed to step aside and give the next generation the spotlight. This was so ridiculous given that he was in his late 30s (pretty much a pro-wrestler’s prime) and was consistently awesome every time he got into the ring. Larry never gave into this ageist nonsense and stuck by Tanahashi as he continued to keep pace with all those younger stars in New Japan, including his 2018 G1 tournament win. When the whole internet jumped on the Tanahashi bandwagon for his WrestleKingdom 13 epic main event against Kenny Omega, Larry’s appreciation throughout Tanahashi’s career once again set his reviews apart as credible, honest and consistent.

There’s no doubt Larry would have continued to be impressed by Tanahashi’s output in 2020, working through the New Japan Cup, G1 and World Tag League, on the way to another great WrestleKingdom match. And while Tanahashi is dubbed the “once in a century” talent in NJPW, here’s to a once-in-a-century writer and reviewer, Mr. Larry Csonka – you are truly missed!

Blake Lovell

5. Bayley
4. Jon Moxley
3. Shingo Takagi
2. Asuka

1. Tomohiro Ishii – What better choice for the first edition of this award than Big Tom Ishii? The man produced lots of great matches with a variety of opponents, and he seemingly only gets better with age. My wish for NJPW in 2021: Give Big Tom all the belts and let him do his thing.

Ian Hamilton

5. Go Shiozaki (if only for his bloody long matches)
4. Jonathan Gresham
3. Tomohiro Ishii
2. Hiromu Takahashi

1. Eddie Kingston – This isn’t a sentimental pick. Well, not totally. Eddie Kingston started his year with a run in Europe, with a wild selection of matches, including a brawl with LA Park that was wild to see live (even if it didn’t translate to VOD as much), and a one-sided arse kicking of Mad Kurt at Rev Pro’s Live at the Cockpit shows that was entertaining to watch in a perverse way. Throw in a cracking run during wXw’s 16 Carat Gold where he managed to snuff out two crowd favourites before coming unstuck in the semis, and you had a guy who was on a hell of a run. Then “It” Happened. Fortunately, an appearance in AEW as part of the TNT championship open challenge opened a new door – and gave him the opportunity of a lifetime. Of course he grabbed it with both hands!

Jeremy Thomas

5. Shingo Takagi
4. Kenny Omega
3. Sasha Banks
2. Bayley

1. Tomohiro Ishii – It’s just another cherry atop the sundae of 2020 that the year when wrestling got shut down showed us who the hardest workers in the business were. Sure, companies went on hiatus and people had to hold back due to quarantines or potential positive COVID-19 tests. Companies made some pretty big blunders. But through it all, the talent was doing their damnedest to find ways to entertain us. Guys like Kenny Omega maintained as many of their commitments as they safely could to represent companies in multiple countries. Talent like Sasha Banks and Bayley took it upon themselves to put an entire divison on their back and carry it, whether in tag competition or singles work. And guys like Shingo Takagi just kept working, and working, and working. But just above all of them, I have to put Ishii. Ishii busted his ass on an incredible level to deliver as much as he humanly could in 2020, and the results showed. That gives him my #1 spot.

[Ed. Note: Dino’s entry does not qualify for point tabulation and you’ll see why below, but I am more than happy to include it.]

Dino Zucconi

Man, this still doesn’t feel real. Coming off a year like 2020, I just don’t know how to properly award this to anyone.

I tried to think about the facets of Boss, what made Larry such an animal. How he could write out 15 different reviews for 15 different shows in roughly 2 days. How he watched everything, had good knowledge of everything and, at some level, loved everything. Do we award relentlessness? Do we award passion? Do we award pride? Do we award someone who managed to put all three (and countless other qualities) together?

I was lucky enough to work with Larry off and on for roughly 17 years. I may not have been one of his Lieutenants, but I always felt like we had a good relationship, and knowing what I know about the man, I feel confident in my decision.

My Hardest Working Performer of 2020 is Literally Everybody. Every professional wrestler that managed to keep going. Every wrestler who had to do this in front of a crowd of zero people. Who had to deal with infections, the uncertainty if they were next, and the uncertainty of whether they’d keep a job. Everyone under WWE’s umbrella, everyone in Impact, everyone in AEW… Ring of Honor, New Japan, All Japan, AAA, CMLL, your favorite local once they started running shows again… in my mind, they all deserve this. Getting up every day and going to work can be a chore in and of itself, and I can only imagine what it was like not knowing if your industry was going to survive, but still going to work because damn it, it’s what you love.

Maybe it’s a copout, but for an award honoring a man who worked hard because he loved this stuff so much, it feels unfair to not grant it to all the pros who put Larry’s passion into play with their undying devotion. And if you really wanna push me, well fuck, then it’s gotta be King Serpentico.

AND 411’s TOP 5 Tag Teams of 2020 ARE…

5. Shingo Takagi8 points

4. Hiromu Takahashi 9 points

T-2. Bayley10 points

T-2. Sasha Banks10 points

1. Tomohiro Ishii18 points