In 2014, Roman Reigns was given the Slammy for WWE's Superstar of the Year despite being less deserving of the award than arguably all six other nominees in the category.
In 2015, though, Reigns may actually deserve the thing.
The Samoan superstar isn't much more warmly regarded by WWE fans — particularly the older, male ones — now than he was at this time last year. If anything, the award was what crystallized the resentment many fans today feel for Reigns because it was the most glaring sign yet that WWE wants him to be its next ace regardless of what we want.
What Reigns also has this year over last, however, is a hell of a body of work. Not only was he healthy all 12 months of the year, as opposed to about eight last year, but by my count, he also had the match of the night at eight of the year's pay-per-views: vs. Daniel Bryan at Fastlane, vs. Brock Lesnar (and then Seth Rollins) at WrestleMania, vs. Big Show at Extreme Rules, vs. Randy Orton vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Rollins at Payback, vs. Bray Wyatt at Battleground, with Ambrose vs. Wyatt and Luke Harper at SummerSlam, vs. Wyatt at Hell in a Cell and vs. Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series.
Surely, some of those match of the night honors are up for more debate than others. But what can't be debated is Reigns' overall reliability to have bust-ass matches with a variety of opponents.
And maybe it's the strengthening resume, or maybe it's the opportunity to play psycho buddy cop with real-life bro Ambrose, but Reigns has also showed more and more confidence as a solo act over the course of the year. The hokey verbiage with which WWE sends him to die in the middle of hostile crowds remains a concern. But otherwise, Reigns spent 2015 showing us that he's ready to be what WWE told us he was last year: The man.
It's fitting, then, that Reigns' biggest challenge for 2015 Superstar of the Year is the woman of WWE: Sasha Banks.
Like Reigns, "The Boss" strung together several classics in 2015: vs. Bayley vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch at NXT TakeOver: Rival, vs. Lynch at Unstoppable, vs. Bayley at Brooklyn and Respect. But her best was better than Reigns', and the 30-minute Iron Woman match with Bayley at Respect just might be the best match and best heel performance of the year outright.
Then there's the historical import of a woman even being in the conversation for the best wrestler of the year in a company that hasn't included them in many conversations at all. Now that Banks is on the main WWE roster, it seems the only major conversation involving her is one-way: Fans chanting "We want Sasha!" at matches that feature any other Divas.
That's the crucial thing here: context. In coming down to Reigns vs. Banks, the conversation about the WWE Superstar of the Year of 2015, as it does every year, comes down to context. It's not just about who performed the best, it's about who performed the best in the situations WWE placed them in. With Reigns, the situation was a skeptical fan base and a company in his corner. With Banks, it was a fan base in her corner and a skeptical company.
The 2015 Superstar of the Year is not a two-person race, either. Both Kevin Owens and my pick for the honor last year, Rollins, are also in the conversation. But I have a feeling that the conversation will lead to me watching more matches from Reigns and Banks than anyone else.