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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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