As exclusively revealed in yesterday’s epic 2hr+ Women of Wrestling Podcast Christmas Show, our pick for Wrestler of the Year is none other than Hailey Hatred. In a year full of heavy competition for the award, it was impossible to overlook the incredible achievements of the woman who – up until two days ago at least – was carrying around six different titles, including the JWP Openweight Title.

But before we get to talking about the winner, it’s only right to run the rule over the rest of the “Class of 2011″ in this category. Last year’s winner Madison Eagles would, quite frankly, have been right on course for a second consecutive year as the world’s best if not for some injury issues which have played havoc with her career this year. Despite shoulder/knee injuries, she’s still put forward a phenomenal year of matches at SHIMMER, quality performances in Chikara & Femmes Fatales and a universally beloved triple threat match for the SHIMMER Title at PWWA’s last show. On her day, Eagles is still unmatchable – but unfortunately for her (and us), those days have been depressingly few this year.

Longtime WSU Champion Mercedes Martinez was also in heavy contention. It’s doubtful there’s another US-based female who produces in main event level matches as regularly as she does – whether it’s in WSU, SHIMMER, Femmes Fatales or anywhere else. Sara Del Rey again excelled in a year that also saw her achieve her dream match in Chikara with a one-on-one battle with Aja Kong at JoshiMania. Speaking of Joshi, we deemed Ayumi Kurihara as being the top contender for the award amongst the native Japanese talents. She’s had an incredible year ever since picking up the final NEO Championship as the promotion closed on New Year’s Eve 2010, adding a SHIMMER Tag Team Title reign with Ayako Hamada, a WAVE Tag Team Title reign with Kana and the CMLL World Womens Championship at her own self-produced show in November. And what about Kurihara’s WAVE tag team partner Kana? Kana exploded internationally this year with her US debut for SHIMMER & Chikara, and domestically stepped up her profile with her work in WAVE and her run in SMASH (which saw her become the first SMASH Divas Champion). For what it’s worth, if we presented an award for “Technique of the Year”, Kana would reign in a class of one.

In Europe, EVE Champion Jenny Sjodin went from hype to reality, becoming someone who many think is the standard bearer for the new hybrid style of wrestling – increasing her worth with much acclaimed performances against April Davids and Emi Sakura on the EVE vs ICE Ribbon weekend.

All worthy of consideration, but for us, we’ve had a name pencilled in for Wrestler of the Year for a few months, and it was always Hailey Hatred.

First and foremost, to get to know the woman and to understand what she’s achieved, go and listen to her appearance on our Women of Wrestling Podcast from the Summer, recorded only a short time after her defining moment of 2011 – a win over Leon in the finals of the JWP J-1 Tournament which also made her the first gaijin female to win the title. It’s hard to overstate how much of an achievement that is. While western wrestling has title belts switch with a head-tizzying regularity, puroresu title reigns are not only usually significantly more important, but major titles being held by foreigners is an incredibly rare thing. JWP’s belt (which is the longest running still-active joshi puroresu title) has never left native hands, and really only Amazing Kong and the late Monster Ripper can ever lay claim to an achievement of this level (they both held AJW’s now defunct WWWA Title). Crucially, Hatred’s win wasn’t portrayed as a fluke – as she went on to successfully defend her title against her best friend Kaori Yoneyama, then team with Yoneyama to add two more sets of tag team titles before the end of the year – making her the first person in puro to consecutively hold a singles Triple Crown *and* a tag team Triple Crown.

Having trained initially in the US (including competing on some early ChickFight tournaments), Hatred has moved to, trained and competed in both Mexico and Japan in order to expand and improve her style – and since setting up home in Japan in 2010, the 28 year old says she has no plans to leave. And why should she? Happiness and contentment are difficult to find in wrestling – but it seems like Hatred has found it. 2011 was also a year where Hatred’s star rose outside of Japan too – thanks in part to coverage in websites such as this, print media, and returning to her Midwest stomping grounds for AIW and SHIMMER in October as the all-conquering heroine. Although she may have just lost the biggest of her singles titles to regular opponent Tsubasa Kuragaki, Hatred is already talking about “Inevitable Successes” in 2012 – she’s already challenged Ayumi Kurihara for her CMLL World Women’s Title and, as revealed in the Christmas Show, looking to add some new stamps to her passport in the coming months, as well as finally make her MMA debut.

On the Christmas Podcast, Hailey perhaps inadvertantly sums herself up in one phrase.

“You can never be too great”

Amen. It gives us great pleasure in acknowledging and recognising the amazing year Hailey Hatred has had in 2011 by awarding her our “Wrestler of the Year 2011″ trophy. Congratulations, Hailey.

– Stew Allen