Friday, January 11, 2019

The Man Comes Around! Becky Lynch is the top wrestler of 2018!

Becky Lynch by Rob Schamberger.
Rarely can I say a talent topping the year end list made a mark on only part of the calendar year. Sasha Banks, Broken Matt Hardy and AJ Styles had career defining years with matches and stories that reshaped the wrestling world for much of 2015, 2016, and 2017 respectively. The same cannot be said for Becky Lynch.

Becky first came on my radar when she was still Rebecca Knox. In the earliest days of Shimmer, she worked for the promotion yet her career seemed to be speeding to an end. She retired from in ring activity in 2008, a perplexing decision for me as she seemed to be one of the best women on the independents at the time.

In 2012 she returned to wrestling and almost immediately signed with WWE, as the promotion clearly had something in mind for the woman they renamed Becky Lynch. If you look at those early days, she clearly seemed positioned to serve as a training body for the talents WWE wanted to bring up. She wrestled regularly against Bayley, Carmella and Sasha Banks. But even as she became a more important figure in NXT, she was the one member of the Four Horsewomen never to hold the title.

Even when she was called up to the main roster, it seemed like she was destined to forever be the bridesmaid but never the bride. Even when called up to the main roster, the Divas and then Women's title eluded her grasp until the new brand split. She seemed mostly defined by betrayals during this period, with both Paige and Charlotte turning on her at one point or another. She became the inaugural Smackdown Women's Champion, but no one saw her reign as anything exceptional, and Alexa Bliss quickly stole her thunder as the next "in" star.

She spent much of the first part of the year as a body in various battles with the Riott Squad. The Iiconics became her next regular feud, but one confined only to television, and one frequently interspersed with random battles with Mandy Rose or Sonya Deville. She seemed stuck in a rut.

But SummerSlam... well, it changed a few things. In the lead up to the match between Becky Lynch and Carmella, Charlotte made her return to the roster. She won a match that inserted her into the SummerSlam title match. Becky was none too pleased that her friend turned enemy turned friend was inserted herself in Becky's chance for the title.

Things came to a head at SummerSlam. Charlotte stole a victory and became Women's Champion, only to be brutally assaulted by Becky Lynch. Thus, The Man was born.

Image credit: WWE.com.
Since that time, Becky has become a dominant force on Smackdown. She would win the title at Hell in the Cell and defend it against Charlotte twice more. It's hard to argue that she's the top female wrestler in the company when she went on to put on multiple amazing matches for the remaining pay-per-views of the year. Her new personality came with a cutting wit that she was only allowed to show rarely before. Even dropping the title at TLC (without being pinned) just set her up to continue a dominant streak in the months ahead.

Yet the most interesting thing about Becky throughout her WWE career is that she's carried a narrative through-line. She's always been the good person, the one that wants a better division, a better place on the card and friends. Yet even since NXT, she's always the one being betrayed by those friends. Even in her turn to the Man, she continued to be the face in her own story. Charlotte betrayed her by inserting herself in the match and taking Becky's victory. The Man is just Becky finally letting her old friendships go in favor of a better her and a better women's division.

Perhaps no place shows this better than Smackdown's invasion of Raw before Survivor Series. While it would cost Becky a place at the pay-per-view, the invasion marked her as the leader of an entire division. Her dominance made it clear she could main event anywhere and the inadvertent injury may very well end with her facing Ronda Rousey in the first ever women's main event at Wrestlemania.

Becky Lynch is the Man. And we can all be damn glad she came around.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Bruiserweight, A Phenomenal One, An Architect and A Sicilian Psychopath: the Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 #5-2

Tomorrow we reveal the top wrestler of last year, but today we round out the top five with four talents that each very much carried the focus on their respective WWE brands throughout the year.

Credit for all images for this article: WWE.com.
5. Pete Dunne

Only one champion in WWE can say they held their title for the entire calendar year 2018. And his name is Pete Dunne. Dunne went from little known in the United States to an international superstar thanks to the UK tournament and his subsequent appearances on NXT television. He defended his title in the calendar year thirteen times with names like Zack Gibson, Kyle O'Reilly, Noam Dar, Danny Burch, Morgan Webster and Ricochet in the list of names he's taken on and walked away still champion.

Contributor Christopher Cummings chose Dunne as his personal best wrestler of the year, saying, "He is at the top of his game, and with his young age the sky isn’t even the limit for him." With his now full time status as a WWE-only talent, it's likely he will continue to wrestler for both NXT and NXT UK for the foreseeable future. But it seems like a matter of time before Dunne brings his unique style to the main roster and continues to turn heads for a long time to come.


4. AJ Styles

Styles held the WWE championship for almost the entire calendar year. Every match he wrestled ranged from good to great. But unfortunately for Styles, much of his reign was mired in head-scratching storytelling produced by the WWE creative team.

Early in the year he put on strong showings with a match against both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn and a victory in a six pack challenge that featured all three men plus John Cena, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler. But it was the dream rematch between Styles and Nakamura that turned much of the rest of the year sour. A slow match kicked off the feud and Nakamura's heel turn did little to light the fire between both men. Styles scored victory after victory against Nakamura as the feud seemed to stretch on forever. Things brightened a bit when he took on Samoa Joe over the summer, but much like Nakamura, the WWE creative team didn't seem to know how to tell the story without stretching it far longer than it should go.

Yet despite the mired storytelling, Styles stayed solidly in the main event of Smackdown for the entire year, even after dropping his title to Daniel Bryan. It seems doubtful Styles will have an any less eventful 2019.


3. Seth Rollins

2018 wasn't a good year for Raw. But if one performer showed he could consistently deliver top level performances on a brand mired in stupid storytelling decisions and ill-advised pushes, it was Seth Rollins. The Architect took the top face position for much of the year, even if WWE creative desperately wanted that role to go to Roman Reigns. He stepped up in a major way after Reigns went on hiatus.

The one dark mark against him was the lackluster Dean Ambrose match at TLC, a poorly paced battle that seemed like anything but a blood feud between two friends turned bitter enemies. But even with that asterisk to end the year, Rollins had a great 2018. It should be interesting to see where he's positioned in 2019 and whether or not the company's interest in doing things differently helps or hinders him to get into the Universal title picture.


2. Tommaso Ciampa

Ciampa entered the year on the injured list. He finished the year as the number one wrestler on several contributor's lists. As a person that backed the skills of Tommaso Ciampa since his days wrestling in Ring of Honor, it excites me to no end to see him finally rise to the level he's always been capable of reaching. With NXT creative behind him, he's become one of the most solid talents the brand has, and ended up a dominant champion in the process.

He started the year attacking his former partner Johnny Gargano. He would go on to fight Johnny at three straight Takeover events and every match can be considered a match of the year contender. Their feud was unarguably the hottest in WWE in the calendar year, and maybe in all of wrestling. They showed that long term storytelling can still work and in the process managed to change the shape of NXT.

His win over Aleister Black secured him an NXT championship. He's since defended the title against both Gargano and Velveteen Dream, with another showdown against Aleister Black assured in the new year. Tommaso seems positioned for a major call up to the main roster when they're ready for it, but the worst thing that could happen to him now is a call up before they're ready for him. He's a one of a kind talent that will hopefully continue to shine in 2019.

We're just a few short hours from the best wrestler in the world in 2018? Who will it be? Stay tuned to find out the man who takes the prize!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

To NXT and beyond!: the Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 #10-6

Today, we enter the Top 10 portion of our wrestlers of 2018. We've got a plethora of talent today, from arguably NJPW's top star to two women wrestlers ranked higher than most of their male counterparts and as the title might clue you in, a pair of the best and brightest in NXT.

Image credit: WWE.com. 
10. Johnny Gargano

Johnny Wrestling had a hell of a 2018. He main event all but one NXT Takeover event in the year. That started out with an epic encounter for the title against Andrade "Cien" Almas in January, one that in other years might have been considered an early match of the year contender. But that was just a warm up for Gargano. The attack from Tommaso Ciampa post-match would reshape the rest of his year.

His rematch with Almas would come with his career on the line and Ciampa would interfere to cost Gargano the title and his livelihood. Instead, Gargano started to assault Ciampa at NXT events. This lead to an Unsanctioned Match between the two of them in the Takeover main event in April. Gargano beat Ciampa to be reinstated into NXT.

Their feud continued in a Chicago Street Fight that he lost. Their next encounter would be for Tommaso Ciampa's newly won NXT championship, in a match also featuring Aleister Black. But an attack would take Black out of that match and Ciampa would barely retain.

Black's return came with the search for his attacker. And we soon learned that the desperate Johnny was the man that attacked Aleister Black to increase his chances of beating Ciampa. Johnny's new pension for doing whatever was necessary didn't secure him the win at Takeover: WarGames, but it did set him up for a major run in the new year. As contributor Christopher Cummings puts it, "One of the very best workers in the world right now, it’s a matter of time before he enters another match-of-the-year contender. He doesn’t seem to struggle with providing us with those."

Image credit: WWE.com.
9. Charlotte Flair

Charlotte was certainly involved in some of the most notable matches of 2018. Yet as I look at the six names below her on this list, I certainly feel like the voters might have attributed too much to her. Being significantly pushed by WWE is not the same as being a super-talented in ring competitor and I personally don't see Flair as ranking above Gargano, Penta or Cody. But this is your list, not mine, so let's talk about the Queen.

She entered 2018 as champion which meant she sat out the Royal Rumble. She beat Ruby Riott at Fastlane the month before her shocking victory over Asuka at WrestleMania. She would drop her belt to Carmella the next night. She lost to Carmella in her rematch before disappearing for television to deal with nagging injuries.

She would then insert herself into the SummerSlam title match between Becky Lynch and Carmella. She won the title that night and in the process set up a car crash storyline for the rest of the year as she feuded with former friend Becky Lynch. This would bring out a much darker edge in Charlotte, one she would carry into her match with Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series.

Charlotte seems to perpetually be in the SmackDown title picture. I don't expect that to change in the New Year either. But with the company admitting it needed to make changes, hopefully we will get to see more range from Charlotte rather than the same old title matches again and again.

Image credit: NJPW.
8. Kenny Omega

The sad part of this being a democratic list voted on by fans is that here in the number eight position we get our highest ranked non-WWE contracted talent. For a man with multiple great matches including a match of the year contender at Dominion, I argue it's not the right spot either.

Omega entered the year with the hottest feud in wrestling. Chris Jericho came out of nowhere to make his New Japan return and set up the amazing match that took place at Wrestle Kingdom between himself and Omega. Omega walked out of that match the winner, even if he left at odds with Bullet Club and Cody. He did receive support from another source though, his old Golden Lovers partner Kota Ibushi.

Though he would drop the United States title in a shocking upset to Jay White, he would score wins over almost ever major New Japan star over the course of the year, from the Young Bucks (with Ibushi at his side) to Kazuchika Okada in that aforementioned match of the year at Dominion. Days later, he would retain the title against Cody at the G1 Special in the United States. The two would embrace after that match, ending the divide between the Bullet Club, until Tama Tonga introduced the world to the BC Firing Squad.

He would go on to score six wins at the G1, beating names like Naito, Sabre and Goto. Though he lost matches to Ishii and Ibushi, he would retain against both men later in the year (along with another victory over Cody in the Ibushi match.)

He put on an amazing match at ALL IN against Penta El Zero M, only to be attacked again in the aftermath of the match. This set up yet another battle, as Jericho teamed with the Young Bucks to fight Omega, Cody and Marty Scurll on the Jericho Cruise.

Omega ended the year as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, but he would lose it three days into the New Year. He announced a hiatus from wrestling shortly thereafter and has now officially become the hottest free agent in professional wrestling. AEW seems like the clear leader for his future, but his history with NJPW and a reported huge money offer from WWE makes his future an open question for the next few weeks.

Image credit: WWE.com.
7. Asuka

While Charlotte felt like she was over-pushed for most of the year, Asuka spent a large chunk of the year feeling like WWE just didn't care. Though she won the Royal Rumble and beat Nia Jax, her loss to Charlotte at Wrestlemania seemed to derail her. She went on to lose two terrible title shots against Carmella over the summer. From there, she formed a team with Naomi, seemingly built around the fact that both like to use a hip attack as a major part of their arsenal. Though it kept both in rotation on Smackdown television, it seemed like she was just treading water until TLC. At that event, she finally scored a win in a TLC match over both Becky Lynch and Charlotte, albeit with a strong assist from Ronda Rousey.

Though she ended the year finally Smackdown Women's Champion, it truly feels as though Asuka isn't in WWE's title picture for too long. Of course, that could always be wrong, especially with the announcement of Women's Tag Team titles in the future.

Image credit: WWE.com.
6. Aleister Black

No one shows the difference presentation can make in a talent better than Aleister Black. I knew Tommy End as a talented competitor on the indies, but one that seemed very limited in personality. WWE immediately changed that by presented him with a unique entrance, a unique theme and a new attire that fit him perfectly. It helped the Dutch performer get off the ground and he capitalized at Takeover: New Orleans by beating Andrade Almas almost exactly after he did in his debut, this time to win the NXT title.

He would defend against Lars Sullivan just a few months later in Chicago, only to drop the title to Tommaso Ciampa on NXT television. His rematch would be lost due to a backstage assault, which in turn would lead to a new feud against Johnny Gargano to close out the year.

As the New Year dawned, the three men seemed locked in a storyline together, one that also looked to pull in NXT North American champion Ricochet.

With all likelihood, Aleister Black will see a WWE call-up in 2018, but like Lars Sullivan, I'm hoping they hold back such a debut until the exact right time to make it count. Black is a one of a kind talent, the kind of star that when booked correctly could easily be an important main event player. Whether or not that occurs remains in fate and WWE bookers' hands.

Tomorrow, we unleash positions 5 through 2 onto the world! Stay tuned and be sure to let me know your thoughts here or on social media!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

From a Celtic Colossus to Zero Fear: the Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 #15-11

Eighty-five wrestlers have come and gone on our countdown. Today we cut that list even more, as we close out the last five names before our Top 10!

Image credit: WWE.com.
15. Drew McIntyre

Ever since he made his return to the main roster after Wrestlemania, Drew McIntyre clearly seemed set for bigger things in WWE. His run in NXT felt odd, a short babyface title run in the main event ended by injury. But as Dolph Ziggler's ally and partner, he started to show a lot of the fire fans saw from him on the indies and in Impact. As poor a storytelling tool as it was for Braun, his alignment with McIntyre and Ziggler also increased the tag team's profile.

And while McIntyre ranks fifteenth this year, he could very well have a better 2019, as it seems clear he's being groomed to be one of the top heels for the company in the new year.

Image credit: WWE.com.

14. Daniel Bryan

Bryan's position at number fourteen on this list is an example of how much WWE can botch their storytelling. His return at Wrestlemania to team with Shane against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn should have lit a huge run for him. Instead he was mired in a feud with Big Cass in the aftermath, the purpose of which no one seems to understand. Though Cass took him out multiple times on television, their pay-per-view clashes were complete destruction for the big man. The last battle came with the news just hours later of Cass's release. Team Hell No made the Extreme Rules poster but their match started with an awful backstage angle and basically involved Bryan being beaten down by both men and slinking off from the tag division after the match.

Everyone thought the feud with The Miz would reignite the fire. Instead it felt like an average Kurt Angle feud in Impact with dirty trick shenanigans ending the matches instead of clever storytelling. His Crown Jewel match was moved to television after he refused to fly to Saudi Arabia and he lost the title to AJ Styles. Bryan's return was an absolute mess, leaving him as a lackluster upper midcarder.

But what a change a heel turn out of nowhere can make. Say what you will about WWE, but Smackdown offered a few brilliant storytelling points in the second half of the year and Bryan's heel turn to win the title was everything Shinsuke Nakamura's was not. Though he lost to Lesnar at Survivor Series, his heel role made that far more acceptable and he can enter 2019 on far more secure footing as Smackdown's top villain.

Cody and wife Brandi Rhodes, before his US title match at Wrestle Kingdom.
Image credit: @CodyRhodes on Twitter.
13. Cody

I'm personally a bit surprised at how high Cody made it on this list, until I remember that we might have a few old school NWA fans in this voting pool. He did have several significant matches over the year, but far less than he did in the previous year. Yet he made those matches count, with an ROH win over Kenny Omega, his US title victory over Juice Robinson and of course, his winning of the NWA title at ALL IN.

Of course if out of the ring achievements were part of this list, his production of ALL IN alongside the Bucks should have put him in a three way tie for first place. ALL IN proved a ton of naysayers wrong and helped increase the three men's cred enough to form an entire promotion around it in 2019.

That being said, Cody has promised he will miss a significant part of the early year with a desperately needed knee surgery, which puts a lot of his 2019 into question. But he's still in his early thirties, so his recovery should offer him a lot of years to keep doing what he does best and AEW could vary well reduce his schedule to a level that can maintain his health for years to come.

Image credit: WWE.com.
12. Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe is the teflon man of WWE. Because it doesn't seem to matter how many losses he's given, he still comes out with high marks and in a good position. Of course, a lot of that can be put to his brutality in the ring. Joe makes everything look real and painful. At 39 and 280 pounds, he still moves like a Cruiserweight a decade younger. The man can go.

And he certainly wrestled his share of great matches in 2018. In the matter of a few short weeks, he faced Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and AJ Styles. His feud with Styles would get highly personal as he would cut some of his best heel promos ever. After that feud though, his year seemed to fizzle as he left the Survivor Series match in short order and has since been mired in a go-nowhere feud with Jeff Hardy.

Joe may never make it to the World or Universal title, but it's clear he's placed to be a major player whenever WWE wants him to be. Honestly, that's a pretty great place to be right there.

Photo credit: Impact Wrestling on Twitter.

11. Penta El Zero M

Call him Penta El Ciero Miedo, Pentagon Jr, Pentagon Dark or just Pentagon, he's now a dominant force in professional wrestling. He entered the year as just a Lucha Underground star and an indie mainstay for places like AAW and PWG. But Alberto El Patron's own idiocy over Mania weekend cost him a job at Impact and opened a door for his scheduled opponents at the Impact / Lucha Underground crossover show he missed. Fenix and Pentagon both immediately made their presence known and in his second ever Impact match, Pentagon beat Austin Aries for the World title. He would drop it back to Aries soon enough, but he cemented a spot on the Impact main roster that has listed since. He's since feuded with Sami Callihan and OVE and the LAX.

After leaving AAA in somewhat controversial fashion in 2016, he returned to that company as well, with his Mexican bookings featuring him in The Crash, AAA and CMLL, basically every major company in the country.

And yet still his most significant appearance might be as one of the hired talents at ALL IN, where he faced off with Kenny Omega in a certified dream match. Though he failed to pick up the W, even more people now knew about Cero Miedo.

Pentagon and his brother Fenix have been rumored targets of WWE for months. But with AEW in the mix, it looks like Penta may have two major promotions looking to sign him very soon.


Monday, January 7, 2019

An Elite caliber of athlete: the Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 #20-16

This week we work our way through the final twenty names on the Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 countdown. We start today, so be prepared to take a peak at the best wrestlers in the world today as voted on by this site's loyal readers!

Image credit: Young Bucks on Twitter.
20. Matt Jackson and 19. Nick Jackson

If you told me seven years ago when Generation Me left TNA that they would become two of the biggest stars to never sign with WWE, I would have laughed. Their trajectory seemed to be towards the biggest dog in town, but instead they focused their time first on the independents, and then on ROH and New Japan. Their friendship with Kenny Omega lead to The Elite and now they have produced the first non-WWE pay-per-view in nearly twenty years to draw a 10,000+ house and are major partners in their own wrestling venture, All Elite Wrestling. And while the brothers wrestled less in 2018 than they did in 2017, it seems obvious they accomplished a ton with their more limited appearances, bolstered by Being the Elite. The future seems very, very bright for the Young Bucks.

Image credit: WWE.com.
18. Ricochet

At the beginning of the year, I wasn't sure if Ricochet would reach this high on the list. He spent the first few months of 2018 on the shelve, working at the Performance Center without any appearances. He finally made his NXT debut right before Wrestlemania. He failed to win the newly minted North American title upon his debut, but from the day he set foot in NXT, his trajectory was towards that title and an ongoing war with Adam Cole and The Undisputed Era. He took that title midway through the year and has been defending it ever since, most recently in a great match against Tyler Breeze. Ricochet is the kind of talent you almost don't want to see move up to the WWE main roster, because it seems so unlikely they will deliver anything with his skills there. That being said, I expect he has a long road in NXT still ahead, most likely with contention for the company's prime title by mid-year.

Image credit: WWE.com.
17. Adam Cole

Adam Cole ranks higher than anyone else in the Undisputed Era on this list, an interesting feat considering of the group, his title record is far weaker. Though he impressively won the North American title and helped retain the tag titles on the same night, he would only hold the North American belt for a few months while the tag titles have remained with the Era for all but thirteen days of 2018. He's still clearly the groomed star of the unit. Yet after over a year on NXT television, it feels like the Undisputed Era are treading in place with Tommaso Ciampa as NXT champion and Cole nowhere in contention for it. If handled correctly, the unit could make a Shield level main roster debut post-Wrestlemania, but in the mean time it seems like Cole will continue his leadership role even without a personal belt to defend.

Image credit: WWE.com.
16. Braun Strowman

Look, I agree with everyone that said Braun Strowman should be the undisputed WWE Universal Champion. WWE spent months building him into an absolute beast, a dominant force that seven men couldn't slow for long at Money in the Bank. Yet what should have been his main event arrival was botched with a horrendous heel turn and an abysmal cash in, especially when you consider just how entertaining Strowman can be inside the ring. His injury still has him off television for the most part, but unless he takes a surprising win at Royal Rumble, I cannot begin to guess what 2019 has in store for the Monster Among Men. And that's pure insanity towards a man with the fan support, both diehard and young, to be a secure star for the company for years ahead.

The Bucks, Ricochet, Cole and Strowman. I know I ranked a few of those talents higher on my personal list, but I cannot argue with the fan votes. Who do you think deserved a shot at the top ten?

Friday, January 4, 2019

From wrestling's #DRAW to the Queen of Spades: Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 #35-21

The Top 100 Wrestler list continues the count towards the top wrestler of the year as this time we work our way right down to number 21! Next week, the top 20 kick off but first let's check out who just missed that distinction!

Sami made Impact his home and has torn his way to a major spot in the promotion in 2018.
35. Sami Callihan

Anyone watching Impact Wrestling knows that Sami has become something of the MVP for the promotion. He's been the catalyst of multiple storylines, even as he also wrestles regularly for Lucha Underground, multiple independents across the country and his own Pro Wrestling Revolver here in Iowa. Sami's carved out his own career in his post-NXT life and shows no sign of slowing down at all!

34. Joey Janela

Speaking of talents that have made major names for themselves on the independents without setting foot in a WWE ring, Joey Janela has made a name for himself for his insane style and his avant garde shows with Game Changer Wrestling. The Bad Boy showed off in front of an even larger audience at ALL IN. Whether that leads to a future with All Elite Wrestling remains to be seen, but he's got a ton of things ahead whether he's injured or not.

33. Tessa Blanchard

Arguably the most over female talent on the American independents, WWE flirted repeatedly with Tessa but never pulled the trigger on signing her. Their loss proved to be Impact's gain as the company rebuilt much of the Knockouts Division around Tessa in the second half of 2018. With good character work and talent in the ring to back it up, Tessa likely will have a lot more big matches ahead of her in the future.

32. Roman Reigns

The only full time wrestler to hold the WWE Universal Champion in the last calendar year, Reigns managed to put in some good showings even if his Hogan-esque beatdown into huge comeback style has grown stale. Yet it's out of the ring news that most shaped his life this year as he stepped down from the championship when he announced the return of his leukemia that he fought before his WWE career. It's a far greater fight than one in any wrestling ring and here's hoping he proves just as dominant.

Image credit: WWE.com.
31. Velveteen Dream

I don't want Velveteen Dream on the main roster anytime soon. But he's easily the best character worker on the NXT roster and has show at Takeover after Takeover that he's one of the roster's best in ring performers. Though he's fallen short of the NXT title now on multiple shows, he never comes out looking like he wasn't game to win it and he could continue to grow as a major player for the brand for years to come. His character should be able to transplant easily to a WWE ring as well, but if WWE has shown anything in recent years, it is an inability to handle the placement for their call ups. They've fumbled far more often than they succeed and a failed call up for Dream could kill the character dead in its tracks. Velveteen Dream could be the next huge main event star WWE needs, but only if the promotion realizes what they have before it's too late.

30. Shinsuke Nakamura

Nakamura suffered an awful push to the main event in a seemingly endless feud with AJ Styles that answered the question, "Even WWE can't mess this feud up, right?" The two men never really were allowed to just go out and wrestle a great extended match and while none of their five(!) encounters were stinkers, his failure to win the title in any of them derailed his momentum. He did have a strong run as United States champion, but no one needs a brand change on the WWE roster more than Nakamura right now.

29. Marty Scurll

The Villain wrestled Kazuchika Okada to a standstill at ALL IN yet somehow managed to perhaps have the least eventful year of The Elite. He remains the only member of The Elite still active in ROH (for now) with several months still left on his contract in 2019.

28. Finn Balor

Fans of the first Universal Champion and former leader of the Bullet Club had a frustrating 2018. While Finn wrestled very few bad matches, he also received very little significant to do as part of the Raw roster. He could easily be moved back into a main event position for the company, but seems destined to an endless purgatory on the upper midcard of the product.

Image credit: WWE.com.
27. Mustafa Ali

The numbers on this list disagree with my personal opinion, but I believe no one had a better year of wrestling on the main roster than the man dubbed "the Heart of 205 Live." He entered the year as something of a midcarder still on that brand, but his brand rose with the sudden termination of Enzo Amore. His first pay-per-view appearance came at Wrestlemania in a loss to Cedric Alexander for the Cruiserweight title. From there, he consistently put on amazing match after amazing match but never managed to score the title. After making his Smackdown debut in an amazing match with Daniel Bryan, he moved permanently to that roster and now finds his incredible wrestling skills rewarded with a very similar position in a much bigger brand. It may be Sasha Banks' music, but it sure seems like the sky's the limit for Mustafa Ali in 2019.

26. Brian Cage

He's not a man, he's a machine. So goes his catchphrase in Lucha Underground and if you look at the number of matches he wrestled around the world in 2018, you would definitely agree. A regular on both Lucha Underground and on Impact, where he spent several months plowing through the competition on the road to the X Division title, he enters 2019 as the contender to Impact's top title. His size, charisma and amazing abilities make him a talent anyone could build a promotion around, so I won't be surprised to see him at the top of Impact going into their run on Pursuit.

25. Hangman Page

I started 2018 not quite understanding why Adam Page even was a member of the Bullet Club. Sure, he joined mostly so Adam Cole could have a second during his run, but his continued presence proved odd when New Japan had Chase Owens to serve as the Bullet Club fall guy when necessary. It was Being the Elite that cemented Page's place in the wrestling world, starting with a rather silly story revolving around WWE kidnapping him that inadvertently lead to Jimmy Jacobs' termination from his writing job at WWE last year. Since that time, he's cemented himself as the weirdo loose cannon of the bunch while getting himself over with solid matches on cards across the country. His battle with Joey Janela at ALL IN was incredibly fun for anyone that watching the web series and probably terribly confusing for anyone that hasn't.

24. Chris Jericho

The Alpha wrestled only five matches in 2018, yet somehow made the year one of the most eventful of his career. He returned to New Japan in a brutal match with Kenny Omega at the Tokyo Dome in January, but turned his attention towards Naito for much of the rest of the year. A spot in The Greatest Royal Rumble proved his only WWE in ring appearance, but from there he went on to beat Naito for the Intercontinental title and defend it against EVIL. He made a shocking appearance at ALL IN that involved an insane flight schedule just to make a couple minute attack on Kenny Omega after Omega's match with Pentagon before facing Omega again in the six man Bullet Club versus Alpha Club match on his own cruise event. An eventful year with some great matches, proving the 48 year old star is still an expert at reinvention.

23. Ronda Rousey

For a talent that just debuted at Wrestlemania, Rousey's run in WWE can only be described as impressive. She hasn't wrestled a bad match in the promotion despite limited training time in advance. And while WWE has certainly been careful to book her well, she's done it while wrestling a lot more matches than the other current UFC crossover talent on WWE's roster. Her push might be a bit harder than it needs to be, but that only serves to set her up for a greater fall when she does finally drop the title.

Image credit: WWE.com.
22. Kairi Sane

Kairi Sane was a talent few knew well before she won the Mae Young Classic last year. Since that time, she's put on great match after great match with every appearance on the NXT roster. Yet her career seems defined by her feud with Shayna Baszler, the woman she beat at last year's classic and a woman she's wrestled three times since. She beat Baszler for the title, only to drop it back to the Queen of Spades, which probably is why she falls right behind...

21. Shayna Baszler

Real talk: I think Baszler is an over-pushed talent on NXT. She's very skilled, but her push on NXT television feels like it's at the expense of way too many talents with just as much if not more upside. That being said, only one female talent appeared in every Takeover title match over the year and her name was Shayna Baszler. Her 2019 may be defined by her partners in the Four Horsewomen, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, as both get their own NXT time as WWE starts the slow build towards Horsewomen versus Horsewomen.

A few names surprised me on this section of this list. Did anyone fall higher than you expected? Or lower? Let me know in the comments below!

We conclude this week and the first four-fifths of the list with the Queen of Spades, but will return Monday with the next ten names on the list!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

From an NXT star lost in the main roster shuffle to the man of many names: the Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 #50-36

Our countdown continues for the rest of the week and the next and today it moves onto the wrestlers ranked in the first part of the second half of our list! Let's check out the names!

50. Andrade "Cien" Almas

Almas seemed lost in the shuffle when he was called up to the main roster and despite a few solid matches hasn't really been given much to do still. He's got a ton of upside, but falls in the shadows of other heels on Smackdown Live.

49. Xander Killen

His babyface work at 3XW and CEW doesn't compared to his vicious heel promos in SCW, but Xander has started to make a solid name for himself as a top up-and-comer in Iowa wrestling and beyond.

48. Tyler Bate

He finishes the year becoming a WWE exclusive talent and it couldn't happen to a better guy. Bate has shown himself to be a classy sort at a young age and continues to be a talent with a huge future in the business.

Image credit: NJPW.
47. Evil

Hampered a bit by injury, the King of Darkness remains the most solid and stable upper midcard talent in New Japan. It seems doubtful he will ever move to the main event tier there, but he's got a solid future in any promotion he wants to make his home.

46. Nick Aldis

He held the NWA title for eleven of the twelve months of the year and defended it around the world against a great array of talent. He's playing the dastardly heel most of the time, but Aldis shows that he's a far greater talent than TNA ever let him show.

45. Fenix

Fenix is an amazing talent and one of the best high flyers in the business, but probably will never exit the shadow of his brother Penta El Zero Miedo. Still, he managed to main event ALL IN which may make him a likely target for All Elite Wrestling in the new year.

44. Xavier Woods

Woods comes out well ahead of his New Day brethren on this list, I suspect because of his entertainment factor. There's few stars as consistently fun in the ring as the Up Up Down Down star.

43. David Starr

To quote his introduction: "The cream in your coffee, your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler, the Jewish cannon, the physical embodiment of charisma, the most entertaining man in professional wrestling, the Bernie Sanders of professional wrestling, the best of the best, Mr Americanrana, Davey Wrestling, the 104 minute man, the main event, “he’s really good at Twitter”, the king of taunts, The Product" David Starr. It's an insane list for an incredibly talented star, a consummate journeyman wrestler whose grown into an internationally known superstar. He's starting off his New Year with a free match streamed to Youtube against Pac, which should get him off to an equally bright 2019.

Image Credit: WWE.
42. Alexa Bliss

Injury certainly hampered Alexa on this list, coupled with the fact that she'll never be the best wrestler on WWE's roster. She's incredibly skilled at building stories but her bell to bell performances have never matched many of the talents on this list. Still Alexa has a ton of talent to keep her going into the future, whether she wrestles again anytime soon or not.

41. Shane Hollister

Personal issues brought "The Shug" out of retirement, but his run since in SCW has been nothing short of magic. Hollister works a heavily strike based offense that allows him to look believable in conflicts with foes twice his size. An independent veteran, I encourage everyone to seek out his appearances in SCW in the coming months.

40. Dezmond Xavier

Like his tag partner Zachary Wentz (#64), Dezmond takes high-flying to another stratosphere, hitting moves I wouldn't think a normal human could ever manage. I suspect some of this is related to their work with CIMA and Oriental Wrestling Entertainment, but they've brought it to America and Impact with a fire that should lead them to big things ahead.

39. Flip Gordon

I don't think Flip was on many people's list of top stars last year. But after signing with ROH and becoming a major featured player on Being the Elite, he's risen to be a household name for a lot of wrestling fans. Flip's still young with a ton of upside and a lot of talent. With at least another year on his ROH contract, expect him to become a foundation of the promotion in 2019.

38. Gyasi (JAH-C)

Whether as one-half of Vicious and Delicious or on his own, JAH-C made a name for himself in Iowa and Minnesota this year. As he continues to expand his wrestling horizons, he and his tag partner will hopefully see a lot more traveling in their future!

Image credit: Photos by Manning.
37. JT Energy

Personally, I rank JT Energy as the talent with the most upside on the Iowa independents. He has mastered the art of being a heel at a ridiculously young age and only grows better with each and every appearance in the ring. He's now a regular for three Iowa promotions and made his debut for the biggest, The Wrestling Revolver. With more eyes on him in 2019, here's hoping he and his partner JAH-C can get a ton more bookings!

36. Johnny Impact / Mundo / Hennigan

Impact Wrestling still has issues at the top of the card despite a stacked roster. Impact still doesn't quite feel right as the top player there, which even Impact fans took note of when they voted Sami Callihan wrestler of the year. But the former John Morrison has an uncanny control of his own body, a great style in the ring and the abs of a god. It will be interesting to see what 2019 brings for him in Impact, Lucha Underground and MLW.

With that, we are now almost two-thirds of the way through our list! Have any talents on this list surprised or shocked you? Are any of these names ones you still need to check out? Hit me with your comments and let me know!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

From an undead bride to New Japan's latest sensation: the Top 100 wrestlers of 2018 #75-51

You voted. I tallied and in the end over a hundred fifty individual talents received votes in our annual poll. We continue the list today with the second half of the bottom fifty of the list.



75. Su Yung

The Undead Bride has dominated throughout 2018 in Impact Wrestling. A unique talent with an amazing gimmick, she's got a ton of a future ahead of her if handled correctly. With great wrestling skills behind the gimmick, she's one of the brightest spots on the Impact croster.

74. The Miz

The Miz had perhaps the most lackluster year of his recent WWE career which is proof how hard the company botched his renewed feud with Daniel Bryan.

73. Mia Yim

If there's one talent in NXT I hope to see breakout in a major way next year, it is Mia Yim. The independent veteran has wrestled for pretty much every major company in the world now and it is finally time for her to shine on a much larger platform. Here's hoping she can get a ton of focus behind her in the new year.

72. Chainsaw King

71. Joeasa

70. Jay Lethal

69. Deonn Rusman

Of all the current crop of Black and Brave graduates, I'd be shocked to not see Rusman not get signed by someone this year. The Alaskan is a solid in ring worker who looks like a million bucks. Any promotion looking to increase their female fandom could do a lot worse than putting Deonn on their card.

68. Ruby Riott

67. Dalton Castle


Image credit: Photos by Manning.

66. WALTER

One of the happiest moments of my 2018 was seeing WALTER live at Revolver's Tales from the Ring II. He's an amazing talent and I look forward to see what he adds to NXT and NXT UK.

65. Kento Miyahara

All Japan's ace is the one talent I still don't understand any American promotion not making a move on. He could really turn some heads on American shores.

64. Zachary Wentz

63. Shane Strickland

62. Rusev

Another victim of WWE's over-sized roster, Rusev deserves a bigger push than he's ever received. With another win of the United States title, he seems to be just on a repeating path in the midcard of Smackdown.

61. Jordynne Grace


60. Toni Storm

59. Mason Beck

The Midwest veteran has mastered the art of being a powerful angry talent. The fact he doesn't get more bookings is a shame to me as he should be a far bigger star on the Midwest indies than he is.

58. Shingo Takagi

57. Nikki Cross

56. Marko Stunt

55. Will Ospreay

54. Taiji Ishimori

53. "The Hawkeye" Steve Manders

Manders excites me because he's an Iowan talent that is willing to travel far to make the rounds and is a clear student of the game. He already seems to have full weekends and I expect him to travel farther afield and to bigger promotions in 2019.

52. Kyle O'Reilly

51. "Switchblade" Jay White

He debuted at Wrestle Kingdom and has made a name for himself ever since. He beat Omega, Tanahashi and Okada over the course of the year. As the new leader of the Bullet Club, he seems cemented as a top star going forward especially if the company should lose the services of The Elite in 2019.

Tons of great talent in that list. Which wrestler do you think was listed too low or too high? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for the next round of wrestlers!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

From the queen of the north to a hometown hoverboard hero: The Top 100 Wrestlers of 2018 #100-76

You voted. I tallied and in the end over a hundred fifty individual talents received votes in our annual poll. We kick the list off with the beginning of the year and the first twenty-five stars to make the list!

Image credit: Taya Valkyrie on Twitter.

100. Taya Valkyrie 

Far more this Mrs. Johnny Mundo, Taya has shown in Mexica, Lucha Underground and Impact that she's a talent to be watched. She's quickly cemented herself as a top tier talent anywhere in the world.

99. Big E

The lowest rated member of The New Day remains maybe the most overlooked talent in WWE. While he's made a good living as one third of the team, he could have been a main event player. Alas, that seems far in the past now for the former Mr. Langston.

97 (tie). Kofi Kingston

97 (tie). Sasha Banks

It's been a sharp fall for the woman that topped the list back in 2015. Sasha stayed healthy for the entire year but has lost pretty much her entire push as a star player on the women's roster with the focus of Ronda Rousey, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss this year.

96. Bray Wyatt

95. Sarah Logan 

Ranked higher than her stablemate Liv Morgan (who fell out of the Top 100, sadly), Logan has a ton of untapped potential if the WWE chooses to use it. Right now, I fear she will be lost in the mix of too many stars without enough spots on WWE television.

94. Shain Bender

The young Iowa upstart has proven himself an impressive high-flyer both locally and in promotions such as IWA Mid-South. With some seasoning, his abilities and his good looks could get him far in the business.

93. Hiroshi Tanahashi

In perhaps the lowest showing one might expect for a G1 Climax winner, Tanahashi is showing his age but still capable of great wrestling.

92. Jeff Cobb

91. Hiromu Takahashi

90. Sheamus

89. Jaysin Strife

A veteran on the indies, Strife remains an Iowa talent that somehow hasn't broken out nearly as much as he should.

Image credit: Ember Moon on Twitter.
88. Ember Moon

She put in solid performances carrying the NXT Women's belt, but her call up to the main roster hasn't offered her nearly as much to do as it should. She killed it on the independents, but it remains to be seen if she will ever get a chance to shine on a Rousey dominated WWE roster.

87. Tetsuya Naito

85 (tie). Kevin Owens

After being the only talent to make the Top 10 three straight years, Owens finds himself fallen far after a storyline firing and a real life injury. He's still got a ton of upside for WWE, but he will need a strong push upon his return to make it reality.

85 (tie). Zeus

The muscular behemoth of All Japan has helped put the company back on the map this year. He's came a long way since I first saw him as part of Osaka Pro, but he remains one of the most entertaining power wrestlers out there today.

84. Kota Ibushi

83. Tomohiro Ishii

82. Mat Fichett

81. Cesaro

80. Davey Vega

I've known about Vega since his days wandering into Chikara's midst as part of the Submission Squad (a unit that also featured Ember Moon in her indie days.) Along with his new partner Mat Fitchett he now reps the Besties in the World. He's become a top tier talent on the Midwest indies, bouncing from Texas to Ohio and even overseas. They are a top flight team especially when they're up against their perennial rivals, the Rascalz.

78 (tie). Trent Seven

78 (tie).  Jimmy Uso

77. Jey Uso

76. Connor Braxton

While he doesn't seem to quite have the push he was receiving a year ago at SCW, his biggest claim to fame is unfortunately still a hoverboard spot that went viral a couple years back on Youtube. He's slowly becoming a regular for AAW, Blackcraft and F1RST however, which should help get more eyes on him and hopefully mean a lot more bookings ahead for Seth Rollins and Marek Brave's first student.