Monday, January 29, 2018

Is Big Match Shin back? The Men's Royal Rumble in review

The 2018 Men's Royal Rumble may have come on only an hour into the 240 minute broadcast, but it marked another sea change in WWE booking. After four straight years of WWE's "chosen" winning the title and getting rained by boos in the aftermath, an indie darling finally rose to take the victory in the first match on the road to Wrestlemania. In the process, he became the first (but not the last) Japanese talent to win a Royal Rumble.

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Shinsuke Nakamura certainly isn't a stranger to big matches. He spent a decade near or at the top of New Japan before he jumped to WWE. He was an instant main eventer in NXT and headlined against Jinder Mahal for the WWE title. But while Shinsuke was a world class competitor during his days in Japan, that Nakamura has been largely nonexistent in WWE. His first match in NXT was nothing short of epic. That battle with Sami Zayn earned the "Fight Forever" chant that came with it. But even as he won the NXT title and defended it in a brutal feud with Samoa Joe, he never quite showed the fighting spirit he showed at so many big New Japan events.

Of course, that Nakamura was mostly an illusion. Although Nakamura always had grand entrances, he frequently didn't push himself in all but the most important matches. That is not to say he ever just phoned in a match, but he only brought the intensity he was frequently known for part time. Even in the middle of huge feuds, he likely only showed intensity for two to three minutes in the many multi-man matches NJPW used to build to feuds.

I have long believed WWE could learn a lot from New Japan's booking strategy. Factions and a lot more six and eight man tags would help protect a lot of their feuds for bigger shows. Nakamura clearly preferred that style of operation as his intensity on television and even at many pay-per-views often seemed a shadow of his New Japan times. It was very strange to hear him called the King of Strong Style when he often showed little of the fighting spirit that defines the puroresu style.

The 2018 version of the Royal Rumble started out with a crowd hot for Finn Balor and Rusev. It kept its fire through multiple appearances and multiple eliminations. But when number fourteen hit the ring, business clearly picked up. With Finn already on fire, he and Shinsuke quickly lit up the crowd.

But Shinsuke and Finn's profile remained just one of many. The ring stayed full for much of the Rumble, but after the elimination of the #30 entry Dolph Ziggler by Finn, business picked up in the match. The final six were clearly split into two camps: the young guns of Roman Reigns, Nakamura and Balor versus the veterans John Cena, Randy Orton and the returning Rey Mysterio. But unlike previous years, the veterans met with trouble. Mysterio and Orton were both soon eliminated, and then there were four.

The intensity of those final four were palpable. Cena and Reigns stood against the Japanese imports Balor and Nakamura. The chosen ones stood against a pair of stars honed anywhere but in WWE. Despite a half hour in the ring, Nakamura had only eliminated one man: his old foe Sami Zayn.

But strong style made its comeback at the end of the match. Nakamura showed all the fire of his most famous confrontations as he stood up to the two men WWE put more money behind than anyone else in the last fifteen years. And in the space of ten minutes, he sent both John Cena and Roman Reigns hurling over the top rope.

Many fans assume the much desired AJ Styles / Shinsuke Nakamura rematch from Wrestle Kingdom 10. But I would rather see a rematch from a much earlier match, one from 2006 at a New Japan event called Toukon Shidou Chapter I. At that show, the defending IWGP Heavyweight champion was a man named Brock Lesnar and his opponent was a man searching to reclaim that belt, then a "super rookie". Shinsuke came up short against "The Beast" but I'm sure I'm not the only one that would love to see a Kinshasa delivered to the skull of the current WWE Universal Champion.

If WWE can continue the stride from their current booking and help Shinsuke rebuild the big match feel he carried so well in New Japan, they could restore the mystique he built in his classic confrontations with Tanahashi, Okada and Goto. WWE is currently overflowing with talents he could bring that same magical fire against. We saw it against Zayn and to a lesser extent in his main roster debut against Dolph Ziggler. But there's also talents like Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and Cesaro on the roster, as well as folks like Adam Cole, Aleister Black and Andrade "Cien" Almas (a man that once beat Nakamura for his IWGP Intercontinental title) waiting for a call up from NXT.

Whatever the case, the Royal Rumble this year stood out as one of the best in the company's history. With the right strategy, they could build a Wrestlemania in New Orleans like none other. Whatever the case, Shinsuke Nakamura looks to be a huge part of the future of WWE. Here's hoping the big matches for the King of Strong Style are here to stay.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Phenomenal rise to the top: AJ Styles is the top wrestler of 2017

It's hard to argue that the obvious most valuable player of WWE today deserves a place at the top of the list. Over his twenty year career, we've watched AJ evolve from a cruiserweight jobber alongside Air Paris, to a foundation of the early days of TNA as X Division champion to a seasoned champion in Impact Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and now World Wrestling Entertainment.

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While he missed ranking on the Top 10 during the final days of his NJPW run (he actually came in #24 in the overall poll), he ranked at number two last year behind only Broken Matt Hardy. But this year, he would prove why he carried his nickname for all these years.

AJ opened and closed the year with the WWE World Heavyweight champion. But he would quickly drop the title at Royal Rumble to give John Cena his sixteenth (and three week) reign with the title. He took his immediate anger out on Shane McMahon. Their hatred brewed for several weeks until the two met in a brutal match to open Wrestlemania. With the anger between the two cooling, AJ turned face and started a run of matches like no other in WWE.

He entered a stellar feud with this year's #7, Kevin Owens. Over several months, the two men had amazing match after amazing match that extended through the summer. Ultimately, he would walk out with a short reign with the United States title. Though he quickly dropped that belt in match with Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler, he quickly rose to prominence by beating Jinder Mahal for his second title. He wrestled Brock Lesnar in an epic encounter at Survivor Series. From there he finished his feud with Jinder, only to move back to another series of stellar matches with Kevin Owens and Owens' new ally Sami Zayn.

AJ didn't come in at first place based on his winning record. In fact, he dropped far more pay-per-view matches than he won in 2017. But winning is far from everything in an entertainment form as subjective as professional wrestling. Every week he appeared in a match, Styles wowed fans. He consistently pulled out some of the best matches ever from Jinder Mahal or Baron Corbin. His in ring psychology is second to none and his offense is filled with flashy moves he can hit quickly and effectively. With a control of his body like no other talent on the planet, he can switch from solid mat skills to high flying in an instant. This versatility gives him so many ways to keep a match's momentum moving forward, that it may actually be impossible for AJ to have a bad match.

Over the course of the year, AJ has done something WWE has tried to do for over a decade with limited success (and rarely succeeded purposefully.) They have created a true blue white meat babyface that children, casual fans and the more jaded older fans (like myself) can get behind. It's made him easily the most popular talent online in the WWE roster. He's even one of the four talents focused on for merchandise over at WWE Shop. Sharing company with massive merch sellers like John Cena, The Shield and Finn Balor is nothing to scoff about.

The real question for AJ is where he's going in 2018. A feud with Shinsuke Nakamura may be in the future. If AJ retains and Nakamura wins the Rumble, they could set up a super-hot feud that could re-energize Nakamura. If they can come even close to their mat classic at Wrestle Kingdom 10 they could create something truly... phenomenal.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Top Ten Wrestlers of 2017, Honorable Mentions part three

Tomorrow, we reveal the immensely talented number one wrestler of 2017 as voted on by the readers of this site. But first, we have the final ten talents that made a large impact over the year withotu quite reaching the top 10.

  • Christopher Daniels (#20)

    Image credit: Oil Sandler / Sportskeeda.
    At 46 years of age and a quarter of a century into his career, Daniels is a veteran by any count. Only a few names can say they've made it as far and as high as he has without ever finding success in WWE. (While he never was on WWE television outside an appearance as a Conquistador, he did have a developmental contract from 1998-2000.) 2017 was one of his most impressive years in the business as he wrestled several great matches and finally ascended to the pinnacle of a world championship. While his run with the ROH title wasn't particularly long, it was quite an achievement for one of the best talents still going in the business.

  • Johnny Gargano (#19)

    Injury slowed Johnny Gargano a bit in 2017, but he walked into the year as NXT Tag Team Champion and walked out as #1 contender to the NXT title. He ranked high on the list of talents here (while current NXT champion Andrade Almas didn't even get a vote.) And while he spent much of 2017 taking losses, he showed why he's called Johnny Wrestling in match after match. He and Tommaso Ciampa sold for the Authors of Pain like no other. The beating he took at Ciampa's hand set him up for a huge underdog babyface run. But he did succeed in putting Andrade on the map with a stellar match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III and bumped for Pete Dunne in perhaps the best UK title match so far. Gargano has a great 2018 in his future, although Tommaso has to be waiting in the wings as a major thorn in his side.

  • The Young Bucks (#17 & 18)

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    I marked Matt and Nick Jackson as the eighth and ninth best wrestlers in the world on my own personal list. They remained forgotten on several others. I suspect they may be victims of their own success. The Young Bucks don't ever have bad matches, but their place as a stalwart and true tag team means they often are forgotten during their dozens of reigns with multiple titles. They held the ROH tag titles twice in 2017, losing and regaining them from the Broken Hardys in their last match before jumping back to WWE. They would then team with Hangman Page (as the Hung Bucks) to capture the ROH Six Man titles. They would take the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team title on their sixth ride as well. (They have since claimed it for the seventh time at Wrestle Kingdom 12.) The Young Bucks have already reached the sky, but their lofty goal of selling out a ten thousand seat arena means they may draw a lot more eyes in 2018.

  • Samoa Joe (#16)

    On any other roster, Joe would be a champion. Unfortunately, he's stuck on the roster of Raw, where Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns won't drop their matches without extreme circumstances. Joe dragged the best match Lesnar had this year out of him and actually made Reigns look better (if not great) when he played his latter day Hulk Hogan beatdown schtick. If all goes well in 2018, he will join AJ Styles on Smackdown. It might make that brand look like TNA circa 2008, but everyone and their uncle know the magic Styles and Joe can make. And just think if they threw Shinsuke in there...

  • The Bar (Sheamus #15 & Cesaro #11)

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    Cesaro and Sheamus were the only tag team not to rank one after another on this list. Both proved their worth by putting on great tag matches in 2017. Their heel turn cemented them as a unit. Cesaro has always worked at a higher level than Sheamus, but the Irishmen seemed relevant for the first time in years in The Bar. I suspect these two will hang together for some time to come.

  • Charlotte Flair (#14)

    Charlotte's move to Smackdown and face turn have done wonders for her character and her in ring work. In my opinion, she works best as a face and she showed that off by putting on some matches far stronger than what we got in the last few months of her heel run. My only fear for her is that she will run out of goals to accomplish in WWE far too quickly.

  • Neville (#13)

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    My number six pick takes the cake for most improved character work by any meter. But this list is about in ring work and in WWE, he was right near the peak of that. WWE's decision to de-push and turn him was beyond idiotic and would have been a truly awful way to end one of the hottest runs in wrestling. I don't blame him for walking away to avoid being just another member of the Cruiserweight crew. I'm not sure if he will sit out his WWE contract or return, but smart money will be that he's back in the heavyweight division when he does. Honestly, who wouldn't love to see Neville on Smackdown feuding with Nakamura or Styles?

  • The Miz (#12)

    I cannot argue that The Miz is really the MVP of Raw, often carrying a show that's primary champion is nowhere to be found and who doesn't ever wrestle on television. His character work is second to none and his in ring work has vastly improved in the last couple years. While I personally wouldn't have ranked him nearly this high, I respect the multiple voters that chose him as a top talent in WWE. 

That's the final ten. Observant readers probably already know who that leaves as number one, the second time our top talent has made an appearance in the top half of our list. Who is it? Find out tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The gaijin changing Japanese wrestling forever: Kenny Omega comes in at #2!

Japanese wrestling has a long and storied history with gaijin talent. From the fifties and sixties, American talent was brought to Japan to serve as nefarious villains for Japanese heroes to face down. Some promotions built their entire roster around this concept.

New Japan did not, at least initially. In its earliest days, Antonio Inoki built up the company's concept of fighting spirit, an important factor of any Japanese wrestling promotion. His wrestlers faced each other in tests of skills and will with enmity only rarely being a factor. That changed in the 80s and 90s as an influx of outside talent started to appear. After Inoki's removal, that influx became a flood and today over a third of New Japan's talent comes from outside Japan. They're not always villains, but even those villains have become respected stars in New Japan.

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But only one has won the G1 tournament and main evented a Wrestle Kingdom. And his name is Kenny Omega.

Anyone that first saw Omega years ago in ROH or PWG knew he was built to be another level of talent. But when he abandoned the American indies for DDT, he recreated himself as a different kind of wrestler. His heavily video game inspired moveset grew and his run with and against Kota Ibushi became something of legend.

That all changed though when he moved to New Japan full time in 2014. Already a full time Japanese resident, he immediately turned heel and joined the Bullet Club. He dominated the Junior Heavyweight division in his first year, but the departure of AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows opened a power vacuum within the Club he immediately filled.

He officially became a heavyweight and promptly beat Hiroshi Tanahashi for the Intercontinental title left vacant by Shinsuke Nakamura's departure. And from there, it became clear he was on his way to main event status. After winning the G1 in impressive fashion in 2016, he opened the calendar year 2017 in that aforementioned Tokyo Dome main event. Though he would not beat Okada for the title in their near 45 minute match, it is hard to argue that it was one of the best wrestling matches in the history of the business. The two men made a mat classic, recognized by Dave Meltzer as the second ever six star match.

Kenny toiled around the upper midcard for several months, but he received his rematch at Dominion 6.11 in a sixty minute draw even better than the first match. During the G1 Climax Special from America, he would win the eight person tournament to crown the first ever United States Champion. He brought his new belt home to Japan where he carried it with him during an impressive performance during the G1 Climax. He would finally get a pinfall victory over Okada in a third highly impressive match, but Tetsuya Naito would overcome him to stop his repeat.

His next several months of wrestling were devoted to defending his United States title. Juice Robinson beat him during the G1, so he received the first shot. Yoshi-Hashi tried for it at an ROH event, but failed. In his first major bout as a heavyweight, Beretta challenged for the belt as well, but fell short. Omega seemed dominant with no foe ready to step up for Wrestle Kingdom when Chris Jericho made his presence known. Following Omega's victory over Beretta, Jericho struck and viciously assaulted Omega in the ring. In the process, Omega ended 2017 much as he did in 2016: as the star player in the hottest feud in wrestling.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Omega's 2017 is his insistence in staying free of WWE. Much like the Young Bucks, he's been very public that he thinks his home should be anywhere but the biggest company in the world. With a stated plan to bring New Japan worldwide in 2018, few men other than Kenny Omega could make that happen. But with his level of talent and the caliber of his competition, the sky is truly the limit for The Cleaner.

Tomorrow, the final ten honorable mentions are revealed, all leading up to our number one. Who will it be? Get your guesses in now!

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Rainmaker reigns over New Japan: Kazuchika Okada ranks at #3!

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Kazuchika Okada has been on my list of best talents in the world for all three years of the annual Top Ten. But for the first time in 2017, he ranked high enough on multiple lists to get the recognition he deserves as one of the best wrestlers in the world.

But while 2015 was the time he rose to the true ace position and 2016 was about cementing that position, 2017 was all about defense. Okada walked into the Tokyo Dome on January 4th of 2017 as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. He walked into the Tokyo Dome on January 4th of 2018 with the title still in hand. He's outlasted Asuka's reign as NXT Women's Champion and seems unlikely to drop the title anytime soon.

Those defenses started out with an epic encounter with Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11. The match broke Dave Meltzer's star scale and rightly so. It was easily one of the best matches I have seen put on by two consummate professionals at the sport of kings. From there, he defended the title against the returning Minoru Suzuki (leading Suzukigun back from a two year run in NOAH), Katsuyori Shibata (in an epic match that cost Shibata more than his career), and Bad Luck Fale (in probably Fale's best match ever.)

This all brought Okada and Omega back together in another encounter at Dominion 6.11. In the only title match not won by Okada in all of 2017, he went to a sixty minute draw with Kenny Omega.

His next defense would be his first on United States soil. During the two day G1 Climax Special event, he would pick up a title win over the at-the-time undefeated Cody.

Before he would have a chance to defend the title again, he would meet the recently anointed United States champion Omega in another bout during the G1 Climax. It was one of only two losses, Omega would take in singles competition during the tournament, but unlike EVIL, Omega was not given another shot at the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, leaving a huge question mark for the future of that feud in 2018.

His final defense of the year came against the aforementioned EVIL. It was a brutal battle, but with EVIL's stablemate Tetsuya Naito on his way to Wrestle Kingdom 12's main event, the result was obvious.

Okada didn't have any major character development points over the course of the year, but his character has developed in the aftermath. He's clearly been poised as a near unstoppable champion. It remains to be seen who will be the major star to topple him however.

But limited character development or not, Okada put on great match after great match in 2017 and looks to continue to do so into 2018. With a great finisher and a solid look and years left in the tank, he could be New Japan's ace for many years to come. With multiple upper midcard titles, it will be interesting to see if anyone can topple him where Omega and Naito have failed in the last two years.

Let's wrap things up with a look at his title defense against Cody this last summer.

Tomorrow, we take a look at another international star that made waves in 2017.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Top Ten Wrestlers of 2017, Honorable Mentions Part Two

Every year we get a list far larger than just ten wrestlers from our correspondents for the Top Ten Wrestlers of 2017. Sixty wrestlers in all made the list without making the top ten. Last weekend, we shared twenty names from that list. This weekend, we will deliver thirty more names. The final ten will be revealed before number one goes live at the end of the week.

On with the list!

Sasha Banks: The Boss came in at number one on the list two years ago, but has failed to make either last year's list or this one. In fact this year, she only received votes from The Pro Wrestling Roundtable's John Morgan Neal. There's a long list of stars that failed in WWE where they succeeded in NXT. Sasha feels like one of those stars. I suspect WWE might still get behind her for a long run with the belt, but she may need a brand free of Asuka, Alexa Bliss and Charlotte for that to ever happen.

Jinder Mahal: Jinder's push to the main event ate up much of the top title picture of Smackdown in 2017. While I won't argue he improved immensely as a performer in 2017, I am sure I am not the only one that disagrees with Derek Lankford placing him anywhere close to the top 25 wrestlers in the world, let alone top ten.

Aleister Black: I saw Tommy End a few times on indie events and thought he was a solid talent with tons of skill. His first televised WWE match against Neville at the UK Title Tournament was impressive. But the creation of Aleister Black brought him to another level of greatness. His tweener gimmick in NXT may be the best extrapolation of that idea ever. His ringwork is impeccable. His character is defined, if mysterious. And the Black Mass is a stellar finisher.

Drew Gulak: One of the best wrestlers in the world before he appeared in the Cruiserweight Classic, Gulak joins Jack Gallagher and Akira Tozawa as the only stars 205 Live has managed to make. He repurposed his Gulak for a Better Combat Zone into Gulak for a Better 205 Live and immediately started to turn worldwide fans on to his talent. The accomplished technical star (and secret exceptional high flyer) seems poised for a big push against Enzo Amore, possibly even a Wrestlemania match for the Cruiserweight title.

Ember Moon: As soon as Asuka left NXT, Ember became the de factor queen of the NXT universe. Though she had to face down multiple talents to win the Women's title, she's easily the most seasoned talent on the show. Accompanied by one of the best finishers in the business, hopefully 2018 will be a time for some great character development for the NXT's new female ace.

Bobby Lashley: Of the only talents that remained with Impact Wrestling from last year, Lashley continued to show himself as one of the most improved storytellers in professional wrestling. While his gimmick isn't that far from Brock Lesnar's, his workrate is far more impressive. I suspect if more correspondents regularly watched the former #2 promotion, he would have ranked on more lists.

Chris Jericho: He started the year as a man with a list and a purpose. The United States champion helped Kevin Owens keep the WWE Universal title while also dominating his own division. But it was his feud with Owens that marked his true talents. He clearly still has tons to still give, even if his move to New Japan at the end of the year very much feels like the beginning of an endgame for his wrestling career.

Naomichi Marifuji: The Pro Wrestling NOAH star made his Impact Wrestling debut this year, but the rebuilding of the promotion post-NJPW crossover has been on his back. He's proven impressive both in his home promotion as tag champion (with Maybach Taniguchi) but he also put on strong showings during his appearances on American shores. While I didn't put him on my personal list, I can't complain with Jeff Yelton's pick.

Image credit: Matt Hardy.
Matt Hardy: While he didn't have the prominence during his WWE run this year as he did with TNA and his short ROH run, Matt still had an impressive 2017, even if he didn't repeat his appearance in the Top Ten, let alone at number one.

Rusev: Rusev came back from injury maybe better in the ring than when he left. But WWE seemed uninterested in a strong push behind him. By the end of the year, he started his push for Rusev Day and signing with Aiden English, both of which have put him over as an effective future babyface. Rusev remains one of the talents with the most untapped potential in WWE today.

Image credit: Puroresu Spirit.
Kento Miyahara: I have regularly watched bits and pieces of All Japan Pro Wrestling as it sought to resurrect itself in the last two years. In many ways, their young ace is the reason for the resurgence. With a beautiful package German suplex and great technical wrestling skills, he's become a huge star for the promotion at only 28. Though the company has diversified its main event scene quite a bit in 2017, he still put on some of the best matches in the promotion's recent history and received a fairly high vote from me for that reason.

Tim Storm: The oldest name on the list also held the NWA World Heavyweight title throughout the majority of the year. Storm quietly made his name across Texas indies for years, but it was with the backing of Billy Corgan's new NWA he rose to national prominence. He put on some solid matches and some just okay ones, all leading up to the loss of the title too Nick Aldis at CZW's Cage of Death of all places.

Image credit: Impact Wrestling.
Rosemary: As she left Decay behind, Rosemary became an even more accomplished in ring talent on the Impact Wrestling card. Perhaps the most impressive talent overall from Impact all year long, it remains a shame her feud with Taya was scuttled by injury, or that Sexy Star's shoot on her took up so much news against her great work in ring.

Other talents receiving votes: Brock Lesnar, Eddie Edwards, Enzo Amore, Jeff Cobb, Jey Uso, Jimmy Uso, John Cena, Kairi Sane, Kota Ibushi, Marty Scurll, Penta El Ciero Miedo, Roman Reigns, Sami Callihan, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii and Tyler Bate.

Tomorrow, we kick off the top three with the most dominant champion in wrestling today!

All image credits are to WWE unless otherwise noted. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The most dominant wrestler in the world: Asuka comes in at #4!

There's only one person you can say is the absolute most dominant wrestler in the game today. Her name is Asuka. While her NXT Women's Title reign ended after 510 days (a record unlikely to be beaten,) it ended because she left NXT for the main roster. (First champion Paige actually did the same thing, although she won the Divas title before she dropped the NXT Women's belt.)

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Before she did that though, last year's third best wrestler put on some of the most devastating matches in the history of NXT. She picked up brutal wins against Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross in triple threat battles. She fought an epic Last Woman Standing match against Cross that was one of the longest women's matches in WWE history. She showed heelish tendencies in her final victory over Ember Moon. But a minor injury made the switch to Raw a wise decision. She chose to walk away from NXT and her title rather than see it stripped from her.

From there, she arrived on Raw with twin victories over Emma, followed by utter dominance over the likes of Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke. Even on the house show circuit, any team with Asuka on it never dropped a win.

But perhaps it was the Raw versus Smackdown Survivor Series match that marked her biggest achievement in 2017. In a match with eight former champions on the roster (and the always lackluster Tamina), Asuka ran the gauntlet, even overcoming two on one odds at the end of the match for the win.

2017 was built around dominance on NXT and a slow burn to prove herself on Raw. That implication came at the first Raw of the year as she took that dominance over a woman that has grown exponentially since they last met in NXT. Alexa Bliss took a stiff loss to Asuka, which leaves everyone to question whether or not even this year's number nine pick can stand up to the onslaught of the woman once known as "Most Dangerous."

It's very clear the "Empress of Tomorrow" dominated in 2017 and looks to repeat that dominance in 2018. But the real question is... can anyone at all beat Asuka?

Let's end the week with a look back at one of her world class butt-whoopins to Dana Brooke, perhaps the perfect person to get smashed by Asuka.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The American Nightmare is living his dream at #5!

I predicted huge things for the former Stardust when he left WWE in mid-2016. His run as that character went nowhere as WWE refused to use him in any sort of positive light. His decision to leave the company opened up a ton of new doors for him. Much like Sami Callihan and Juice Robinson, Cody has started a career renaissance since leaving WWE.

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He ended 2016 and started 2017 with debuts at the two promotions he now calls home. Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling have both invited Cody in with open arms. As the newest member of the Bullet Club, he comes with a pre-arranged entourage as well. Alongside the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll and Hangman Page, he is also featured in the "Being the Elite" webseries.

The early months of the year ended his run with Impact Wrestling and left the Global Force NEX*GEN title he held in limbo. And while he does make a few other independent appearances, his focus since that time has been on ROH and NJPW. He won multiple matches in New Japan leading up to a title shot against Kazuchika Okada at the NJPW G1 Special from California. He would take his first loss to Okada and would later lose a tag title shot alongside Hangman Page. But even as his success waned in New Japan, his star rose to the top of Ring of Honor.

Just before his loss to Okada, he took the ROH World title from Christopher Daniels at Best in the World. He'd retain the title in a rematch the very next day in a 2 out of 3 falls match before embarking on a world tour that saw him defend the title successfully thirteen times. The likes of Michael Elgin, Willie Mack, Minoru Suzuki, Sanada, Frankie Kazarian and Jay Lethal fell to him in his six month reign. Ultimately, it would be Dalton Castle that surprisingly unseated him at Final Battle to take the title.

In the last year, Cody has reinvigorated himself as an ultra-smarmy heel. The American Nightmare is the polar opposite to his hard-hitting babyface father, the American Dream. Vain and petty, his demands for everyone to "kiss the ring" made him reviled even as most of the Bullet Club received cheers from American audiences.

While Cody's loss at the end of the year was a bittersweet moment, his 2017 was nothing short of a phenomenal rise for a man the WWE would barely let off of Main Event and Superstars. At only 32, he still has the best years of his career ahead of him and a long term deal with ROH means he should have several more years with both them and New Japan ahead. It's easy to see him developing into a gaijin ace for New Japan even as he continues to dominate Ring of Honor.

Check out one of the most unique matches of the year, as current WWE UK Champion and #6 entry on this list Pete Dunne takes on Cody from a Southside Wrestling show!

Tomorrow, we finish off the week with one of the most dominant talents in professional wrestling at #4. Find out who on Friday!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Pete Dunne: the brash Bruiserweight blasts his way to #6!

I first learned of the existence of Pete Dunne way back in 2014 when he teamed with storyline brother Damien Dunne and perpetual foe Mark Andrews to form Team UK in Chikara's King of Trios. I was particular impressed him back then, but his exposure to American audiences was pretty much non-existence outside a few folks that subscribe to Revolution Pro or PROGRESS Wrestling's streams.

That changed at the very beginning of 2017 when Dunne was one of eight names inserted into the tournament for the WWE United Kingdom Championship. He burst onto the scene with a series of hard-hitting and compelling matches. He jumped his foes more than once during the tournament as he made his way through Roy Johnson, Sam Gradwell, and perpetual enemy Mark Andrews (a man that walked away from Impact Wrestling for a place in the UK division.) Ultimately, he would fall to one of the men he assaulted, Tyler Bate, in the finals.

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Four months later, Dunne would take the title for the first time. He would hold onto it through the end of the year, defending against Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Wolfgang, Johnny Gargano and Jack Gallagher. His run with the title has made him a clear anti-hero, something helpful when he spends so much time teaming with former rivals Tyler Bate and Trent Seven outside the purview of NXT and WWE. British Strong Style took home the King of Trios this year, held in the UK for the first time, three years after Dunne's first appearance and arrival on American soil.

As he ends the year, he also holds the ATTACK 24:7 title and the Destiny World Wrestling belt, while also spending most of the year as PROGRESS World Champion. He's made appearances all over the independents and starred in the first shows PROGRESS put on in the United States earlier this year.

His unique contract means he's regularly working all over the world for multiple promotions, with limits only on televised promotions not approved by WWE. Whatever the future for the UK division in the WWE will be, it seems clear Pete Dunne will continue to dominate the indies and his division. Hopefully, WWE realizes how much star power they have with the Bruiserweight. He could have major programs in WWE with some truly stellar talents. Who wouldn't want to see Dunne versus Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe or AJ Styles?

Now, it sure would be nice to see Dunne beat the hell out of Enzo Amore one more time.

Tomorrow we continue the non-WWE exclusive stars with another highly decorated worker in 2017...

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mr. Threepeat: Kevin Owens clocks in at #7!

Only one name has made everyone of the annual Top 10 lists on this site. And that is a man that has taken WWE by storm since he first signed in August 2014. A dominant former NXT Champion, WWE Universal Champion, two time Intercontinental Champion and three time United States Champion (the most recent of which came in mid-2017), Kevin Owens makes a solid argument for being WWE's most valuable player.

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2017 opened with Owens at a new high. He won the WWE Universal title after the first champion Finn Balor went down with an injury sustained in his first title match. He held it all through the second half of the year, even beating Roman Reigns at Royal Rumble to retain. But his obsession with his own greatness made him turn on his friend and ally Chris Jericho. This turn would lead to a distraction at Fastlane that would cost Owens his title and his main event berth at Wrestlemania. Owens and Jericho degenerated into a feud that would lead through a transfer to the Smackdown brand. They would trade the United States title twice before the feud was over.

From there, Owens moved into a feud with AJ Styles over the United States title that carried both through the summer. They put on a series of epic matches, but ultimately the Phenomenal One came out on top.

But it was his shenanigans in the ring that ultimately lead to Summerslam and Shane McMahon's insertion in his match for the US title with Styles. He segued into a feud with Shane himself, one that still burns as 2017 closes.

Owens beat down Mr. McMahon to really kick it off, followed by a destructive Hell in a Cell match at that same pay-per-view. Sami Zayn would rescue him there, joining forces with his own friend as both felt Shane failed to give them the chances they deserved in Smackdown's "land of opportunity." He would interfere against his own brand's team (lead by Shane) at Survivor Series. Shane wanted to fire both men afterwards, but Daniel Bryan stepped in to keep both employed. Bryan would also count the deciding three count at Clash of Champions in a match for Owens and Zayn's jobs. This would turn Shane's enmity towards Bryan as well, but even as Owens moves back into the World title picture, his enmity with his boss still holds.

Kevin Owens is one of those rare talents that shines past any flaws. He looks like a pretty normal guy thrown in a world of lithe high fliers and muscular giants. But this belies his immense in ring skills, his ability to cut wicked promos (in his second language no less) and his ability to tell some of the best stories in wrestling today. Only a handful of talents can rise above the often dreadful storytelling of WWE programming. Kevin Owens deserves his place on this list for his ability to outshine so many talents around him.

Now Kevin Owens enters 2018 as the most hated man on the Smackdown roster. With multiple potential opponents to face moving forward, it remains to be seen if he can continue his streak into a fourth year. But now aligned with Sami Zayn, the future continues to be bright for the Top 10's most decorated entrant.

As we close out this entry, let's look back at one of Owens' finest moments as the Festival of Friendship comes to dark close...

Tomorrow, we introduce the talent with the highest rise in profile of the year, that rose out of a burgeoning wrestling scene to become one of the top talents in the world.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New year, new name

As the new year dawns, the Top 10 of 2017 continues tomorrow with number seven. But right now, it is time for a new title for this blog.

While the direct link will stay the change, the site needs a new name with its focus on less frequent, more in depth articles. The Wrestling Weekday doesn't work anymore. 

So it's time to meet The Wrestling Deep End. 

Longer articles. Unique content. And it all kicks off with the continuance of the Top 10 tomorrow!

Onward and upward and welcome to 2018 everyone!