Hello everyone – it’s the end of another year here at Ringbelles, which means it’s time for us to gaze back over the year of female grappling from around the globe and celebrate the success stories of 2012. So, coming this week, we’re announcing our now traditional Year End Awards, in the categories of Discovery of the Year (today, right here in this very post), Breakout Star of the Year (on Wednesday) and Wrestler of the Year (on Friday). We top that all off with our festive 49th edition of the Women of Wrestling Podcast, which is planned to drop on Saturday, where we invited the Three Wise Men of Independent Women’s Wrestling – Dave Prazak of SHIMMER, Drew Cordeiro of WSU and Stephane Bruyere of NCW:Femmes Fatales – on board for a roundtable discussion, wherein (amongst a host of other topics) we discussed the results of these very awards. So, without further ado, let’s see who caught our eye this year for Discovery of the Year.

“Rookie of the Year” awards can sometimes be difficult (because if you stick to the dictionary definition of someone in their first year in wrestling at the time of writing, the pool can often be quite shallow), so our Discovery of the Year award, whilst similar in spirit, is envisioned as an award for the talent that this time last year wasn’t even on our radar, but this year caught our attention in a positive way… and is therefore someone that we’re tipping to bloom and flourish in the coming years. We discussed a number of potential winners before settling on our final pick, and before we announce the winner, it’s only fair to list a few honourable mentions, as these women all burst into our consciousness in 2012 and we’re banking on them becoming players in the coming years. Right near the top of the list is Chikara‘s own luchadora intergaláctica, Saturyne, who wowed us with fantastic aerial skills and fearlessness the like of which women’s wrestling has rarely seen. Canada’s Leah Von Dutch is starting to come into her own and command interest with her work both domestically and internationally. Over on this side of the pond, WAWW (soon to Bellatrix‘s) Penelope genuinely seems to improve by leaps and bounds every time we see her, while down in Florida, Santana Garrett has turned our heads with some really good performances in SHINE and a thoroughly enjoyable SHIMMER debut in October. However – our choice for Discovery of the Year goes to someone who snuck up on us and quickly became one to watch on every show she was on.

22 year old Seattle native Kimber Lee grew up a secret wrestling fan, particularly citing “The Ninth Wonder of the World” Chyna as an early favourite, particularly given how she was able to mix it up and wrestle the men as well. It wasn’t until moving to the Philadelphia area to attend the University of the Arts (where she majored in Dance), a visit with a friend to a CZW show at the former ECW Arena and a chance meeting with DJ Hyde (who asked her if she fancied training as a wrestler) that young Kimber was able to follow in Chyna’s footsteps and start wrestling guys. As the only female there, she had no choice in the matter – but soon she became the first female graduate of the CZW Wrestling Academy. A heck of an achievement for anybody, let alone someone who used to attend ballerina classes as a child.

While she debuted in mid 2011 as an in-ring competitor (and even took part in a mixed six-person 2/3 falls Tables match last December in CZW), it wasn’t until the first AIW Girls Night Out of this year (GNO5) that Kimber Lee first came to our notice in a surprisingly good match with Veda Scott – I say “surprisingly” simply because I had no expectations for the match going in. Scott & Lee ramped up the intensity and velocity of the show enough to make me take notice. She did it again at Girls Night Out 6 in April, this time against Jennifer Blake. That same weekend she debuted for JAPW, and two weeks later appeared for the first time for WSU as a competitor in the 2012 J-Cup (as a last minute replacement for Christina Von Eerie). Her match with Athena was described by our correspondent on scene as “Match of the Night”, who pointed out that they “rocked the house”. This was the same tapings where Kimber Lee hooked up with Annie Social as a team, taking on Rick Cataldo & Ezavel Suena. The taping won Kimber a shot as a regular on the WSU roster, and won an admirer in Annie Social. As part of a website exclusive “Fight Like A Girl” chat with Social this year, she noted that Kimber was “Awesome. She’s got a real good attitude. She works really hard, and I just really like her style… I think she’s gonna go somewhere in the next two years.” Social and Kimber Lee also cut one of the most NSFW promos we’ve ever heard.

In May, Kimber got to follow in the footsteps of her great friend/foe Mia Yim (the two had already taken their feud around RCW, Force 1, CZW and JAPW) by making her debut in Japan – wrestling on the final show of REINA‘s original run in a match billed as a “USA CZW Blond Hair Beautiful Woman Invasion”. There she took on Aki Kanbayashi in a match that Kimber touts as her favourite match. Of the experience in Japan, she describes the four days of ‘go go go’, as “Way too short a time, [with] no time to relax at all”, but the chance to walk out at Korakuen Hall, get streamers from the fans and take on someone like Kanbayashi was “great, and I loved it”

We noted that she (amongst others) had a great half year six months ago, and she’s continued with much of the same high quality in the second half of the year too. At AIW’s Girls Night Out 7, she continued her run of surprisingly good matches by giving Melanie Cruise one of her best matches of the year en route to victory. In September at DCW, Kimber ended up teaming with originally scheduled opponent Kacee Carlisle for an impromptu challenge to the the male champions “Dirty” Sonny Deeds & “The Original Chick Magnet” Mozart Fontaine – and on a show that was entitled “Piledriving Breast Cancer”, Carlisle & Lee won the tag team championships. Lee added to that by defeating Jessie Kaye at DCW’s November Reign show last month to become the DCW Women’s Champion as well. On WSU’s comeback show “Full Steam Ahead” in October, Kimber Lee & Annie Social came up short in a tag team match with the Midwest Militia duo of Allysin Kay & Sassy Stephie, but she impressed new owner/booker Drew Cordeiro. Speaking to us a few days ago for the forthcoming Women of Wrestling Podcast, Cordeiro pointed out that…

“She’s always willing to learn and willing to listen, and I think that coming up in CZW has really helped benefit her because that’s a tough locker room to come up in […] She seems to be very humble and dedicated to what she is doing. Kimber Lee is definitely someone that I’m happy that we have the ability to work with, and I’m really interested to see what her and Annie Social are going to continue to do as a tag team in WSU.”

As well as continuing her run in WSU (and seeing her two worlds collide at the big WSU/CZW double header in February in Vorhees, NJ), Kimber continues to expand her horizons, as she’s heading down to Florida for a SlamminLadies.com shoot for Lexie Fyfe which may well mean she’ll be part of SHINE 6 in January. I think it’s fair to say that going into 2013, the world is quite literally her oyster. When reached for comment on receiving this award, the woman in question responded positively.

This year has been great for me and I have been blessed with some amazing opportunities. In 2012, I went on my first tour of japan, began working for WSU have started a campaign for equal rights for women in CZW. I am the current women’s champion and one half of the tag team champions in DCW in Delaware, and on a non-wrestling note, I grauated from college and have a degree in dance education! Thank you again for choosing me for this award!

For those of you scanning this and haven’t noticed Kimber Lee yet, we urge you to go and check her out. She’s not the finished article, but for what she’s achieved in her year and a half in the business, the quality of matches she can deliver and the dedication she shows to her craft, Kimber Lee is without doubt our Discovery of the Year. Congratulations.

— Stew Allen