Every Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year (1980-2022)

Hamish Woodward

Tay Conti posing in the ring wearing black in AEW

The most improved wrestler award is one given to the superstar who shows the most improvement in their overall game in that year. The Wrestling Observer’s award for the Most Improved Wrestler of the year gives out the gong based on how much better a star – male or female – gets over calendar year. This could be improving inside the ring, finding a new character or getting better on the microphone, but is usually a combination of all three.

The award has been awarded by the readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter annually, since the award’s inception in 1980. In the first year, Larry Zbyszko was given the nod due to how much he’d improved in all aspects of the business. He later repaid that faith by having an incredible career which culminated in a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2015.

He was followed by an incredible parade of legends, including Adrian Adonis, Jim Duggan, Sting and Kenta Kobashi, just to name a few. Not all went on to become legends in the business, however. Wrestlers like Big Bubba Rogers, The Cobra or Johnny B. Badd never went on to achieve legendary status but had good careers that more than matched up to their expectations when entering the business.

The award isn’t just awarded to young wrestlers. Older stars who have been given a new lease on life are also eligible, provided they have improved significantly over the year. Given their age it is difficult for them to get better as time goes on, by veteran stars like Keiji Mutoh, DDP and Lance Archer all being awarded the prize late in their careers.

The awarded for the most improved wrestler has been awarded every year, from 1980 all the way through to 2022. The 2022 award has yet to be given out but this page will be updated once it is.

AEW & NJPW Star Lance Archer is one of the oldest recipients of the award.

Here is a list of every “Most Improved Wrestler” voted for by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers, as well as the years they were voted in to win the award. Let us know which ones you disagree with and who should have won the award of them by clicking down the bottom of the page in the comments.

Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year

  • 1980 – Larry Zbyszko
  • 1981 – Adrian Adonis
  • 1982 – Jim Duggan
  • 1983 – Curt Hennig
  • 1984 – The Cobra
  • 1985 – Steve Williams
  • 1986 – Rick Steiner
  • 1987 – Big Bubba Rogers
  • 1988 – Sting
  • 1989 – Lex Luger
  • 1990 – Kenta Kobashi
  • 1991 – Dustin Rhodes
  • 1992 – El Samurai
  • 1993 – Tracy Smothers
  • 1994 – Diesel
  • 1995 – Johnny B. Badd
  • 1996 – Diamond Dallas Page
  • 1997 – Tatsuhito Takaiwa
  • 1998 – The Rock
  • 1999 – Vader
  • 2000 – Kurt Angle
  • 2001 – Keiji Mutoh
  • 2002 – Brock Lesnar
  • 2003 – Brock Lesnar
  • 2004 – Randy Orton
  • 2005 – Roderick Strong
  • 2006 – Takeshi Morishima
  • 2007 – Montel Vontavious Porter
  • 2008 – The Miz
  • 2009 – The Miz
  • 2010 – Sheamus
  • 2011 – Dolph Ziggler
  • 2012 – Kazuchika Okada
  • 2013 – Roman Reigns
  • 2014 – Rusev
  • 2015 – Bayley
  • 2016 – Matt Riddle
  • 2017 – Braun Strowman
  • 2018 – Adam Page
  • 2019 – Lance Archer
  • 2020 – Britt Baker
  • 2021 – Tay Conti
  • 2022 – TBD

The Miz and Brock Lesnar hold the record for the most “Most Improved Wrestler” awards with two wins each. The first female winner of the prize was WWE’s Bayley in 2015, while two women from AEW won the award back-to-back in 2020 and 2021 (being Britt Baker and Tay Conti, respectively).

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