Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Most Interesting People in Wrestling of 2013

The WWE's most improbable success story
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Barbara Walters does, or at least she used to do, her "Most Fascinating People of [insert year here]" list around this time every year. I think that's a pretty neat feature for me to unequivocally rip off borrow, as there have been plenty of interesting personalities in pro wrestling. Here are my Most Interesting People in Wrestling of 2013.

AJ Lee - For as much pub as Total Divas has gotten from the promotional machine of WWE, I find it curious and satisfying that the only woman, aside from Vickie Guerrero, who continues to get consistent, vociferous reaction from the crowd is Lee. Her repayment is bullying backstage, humiliation on screen (in the form of getting that vomit dropped on her... Be A Star, Cena!), and status as a jump-starter to get those reality TV stars over. Regardless, Lee works hard in every scene she's in, and despite being cast as a heel, is more of a positive role model to the young girls watching at home than anyone else on the roster. Her realness is not a fit for WWE, but that's more the company's fault than hers.

Billy Corgan - Corgan's been dabbling in wrestling for over a year now. His money and name have been lent to the Baron Bros. Chicago wrestling outfit, Resistance Pro, and to be quite honest, they weren't doing him any favors by their showing at National Pro Wrestling Day. I guess that reason is why he'd be so linked to buying yet another company that deals in misogyny every day, right? I found Corgan being Impact Wrestling's savior to be a bit hilarious given that he's only involved in R-Pro on the figurehead level. Still, the frenzy that he whipped the fans up just by leaking his intentions to buy TNA was a testament to how godawful that company is in the hands of the Carters.

Chris Hero - He went from golden child, wrestling William Regal in a showcase match, to released in a matter of six months. What happened to Kassius Ohno in NXT that made his stock plummet? The very action of his release has been the spark for many debates among fans in the last month, although in that time, he's provided a short-term spark for several indies, whether in the spotlight or off the beaten path. Clearly, people want to see him, so what made the people within WWE change their minds so quickly? The DIRT SHEETZ reported that he didn't show enough dedication going to the gym. Of course, the "sources" used by these reporters are of such varying providence that I'm not sure that was the case. Either way, WWE fucked up. Not Hero.

A turbulent but excellent year for the Swiss Superman
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Antonio Cesaro - Cesaro, in many ways, has been a part of the same referendum that Daniel Bryan has been made part of, only on a smaller scale. WWE seemed to lose faith in him as a singles performer, but he never left the eye of his former bosses down in NXT, who took him and used him as a bouncing canvas to launch Sami Zayn into the stratosphere of Full Sail. Meanwhile, he found life in a tag team and then got over on his own by doing the Giant Swing on people of various sizes. He won't be WWE Champion any time soon, but he's making his superiors at Titan Towers take notice of him, whether they want to or not.

Candice LeRae - Super Dragon doesn't like women wrestlers, a point he made in type on the PWG message board. That fact makes LeRae's ascendance in the company all the more compelling, since she clearly fits the profile of a woman who wrestles. She may have been helped by her friendship with Joey Ryan or the fact that she's been grandfathered in by wrestling in the company in the past. Regardless, LeRae's appearance on the shows and her crowd reactions for when she's been doing important things on them show that PWG fans seem not to care what kind of gender their performers are.

Christy Hemme - Austin Aries sexually harassed Hemme on live television this year, and predictably enough, the wrestling world, both fans and performers, started piling on her for making a big deal out of the whole thing. I shouldn't be surprised that people who consume and participate in a business where companies regularly put women in degrading positions for babyface pops are terrible towards performers, but Hemme was strong enough to start some kind of pushback against Aries' behavior at all. Nothing really came of the incident; Aries still has his job and a sustained push. However, the outcry on Hemme's behalf and the reaction from the network against the lack of judgment against Aries for his overreaction showed that maybe, things are slowly changing for the better.

The hero we didn't expect
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
Icarus - A year ago, I never would have imagined going to a Chikara show and hearing more than a smattering of ironic cheers for the man dubbed as The Worst in the World. His transformation into a folk hero has been one of the strangest and yet most oddly satisfying arcs in wrestling in total. I don't know whether his transformation has redeemed Chikara's overall narrative on the whole, especially since I kinda dig the viral aspect of it so far. However, Icarus' story in 2013 has shown that every leopard, even the most outcasted one of them all, can change its spots in this strange and wonderful world of professional wrestling.

Marion Fontaine - Fontaine decided he would innovate by turning back the clock, a paradox, but one that produced maybe the most critically acclaimed one-off show of 2013. His in-ring character was already retro by design, but when he decided to take it a step further and actually produce a show that was ripped straight from Prohibition-era America and plant it right in the middle of modern Ohio, he was taking several risks. However, they've all seemed to pay off, mainly thanks to his incredibly sharp vision and execution of it.

The Estonian Thunder Frog - I honestly don't know if the Thunder Frog was supposed to be a jokey jobber character in the vein of Los Ice Creams or whether he was supposed to take off the way he did. However, from the moment I first heard that such a wrestler existed, my heart filled with joy. The first time I saw him in action, I was the opposite of disappointed. An anthropomorphic wrestling amphibian from the Baltic States is something I would have created as a high-concept comedic character for a random e-fed I'd participate in, but the Thunder Frog owned that persona, worked the crowd, and actually had great matches along the way. I don't know how probable his success was, but I'm glad he did get a chance to break through.

Not just a title shot inside, but a character too
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Randy Orton - Orton arguably became an interesting figure in wrestling for the first time in the five years I've been watching regularly. Across the board, the man whose gimmick up until this year had been simply "winning" or "having a famous dad" has drawn critical acclaim. His character's improvement to me began around WrestleMania and has been knotted to Daniel Bryan, Big Show, and The Shield all year, and each of those entities served to bring the best out of Orton until he could take his final form. Over the last two months of the year, Delusional Champion Brat Orton has morphed into someone who needed a canvas to a guy who was a self-sustaining, scene-stealing diva. He might have taken longer to get to main event caliber performer than anyone would have liked, but now that Orton's become a creative force to match his push, I'd say he's been worth chatting about around the water cooler every Tuesday.