Friday, April 25, 2014

The 2013 TWB 100 Slow Release: #25-#6

Devin Chen: PWG All Star Weekend X Night 1 12/20/13 &emdash;
Chris Hero's return to the indies saw him give the what-for to Adam Cole in PWG
Photo Credit: Devin Chen

Time to take the list to the doorstep of the top five!

25. Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno
Points: 1692
Ballots: 25
Highest Vote Received: 8th Place (Rich Kraetsch)
Last Year's Placement: 47th Place

TH: To be completely honest, the only prolonged match I saw of Ohno's all year was his masterwork against William Regal on NXT. That match was enough to put him on the tail end of my ballot. The contest was such a fabulous display of brutality on Ohno's end, and it baffles me to this day why, after putting in an effort like that, he was released.

Martin Bentley: If you consider in-ring for 2013, Hero didn't actually do a whole lot. In fact, the year was pretty notable for him being kept off NXT TV whilst supposedly WWE wanted him to work on his weight and conditioning. Whilst Kassius Ohno's developmental stay didn't exactly work out, he did have his moments there, most notably in a match where William Regal tested his fighting spirit, and for the brief spell he had upon his return, where he was having good matches with the likes of Luke Harper and Tyler Breeze before WWE sensationally let him go.

But once he was let go, man did Chris Hero return to the indies on fire. His first major statement of intent was at Dragon Gate USA, where he brought it to Freedom Gate Champion Johnny Gargano. This continued into a long-awaited CZW appearance where he challenged Drew Gulak for his CZW Title, a run-in to his old stomping grounds of Ring of Honor, and a return to PWG, where he started his series with Adam Cole, and also had a rematch from 2011 in ACW with ACH. Being released from WWE would devastate many wrestlers. It's only made Hero more determined to blow things up and dominate the scene once again.

Scott T. Holland: Kassius Ohno got my vote based almost entirely on his NXT match with William Regal, one of the forgotten classics of 2013, though he was more than passable in subsequent clashes with the Wyatt family. It’s a shame he was kept off TV all summer. Hopefully other voters have good things to say about his late-year run in his old Chris Hero persona.

24. Jack Swagger
Points: 1983
Ballots: 30
Highest Vote Received: 9th Place (Jesse Powell)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: BIGG HOSS was easy to make fun of because of his ill-timed injury he levied on Dolph Ziggler and because he was always in the background after his big push died out after Extreme Rules. However, reviewing his year, I saw he was in a lot of quality matches where he was either keeping up with the opposition or was the star performer. His most important match of the year was against Sami Zayn, which happened within the immediate wake of the former El Generico's MONUMENTAL two-out-of-three falls match against Antonio Cesaro. That match could have been swallowed up by the momentum of the prior match, but Swagger more than held his own and provided as close to a mammoth canvas for Zayn to bump off as Cesaro was. Speaking of the Real Americans, a big reason for their excellence in the ring was due to their sublime double team offense and cohesion. Swagger had a great 2013, even if he might have gotten lost in the shuffle a bit.

Brandon Spears: It's unfortunate that he spent most of 2013 in a tag team with Antonio Cesaro with Zeb Colter as his mouthpiece. Not necessarily unfortunate for the trajectory of his career, but because he very often gets overshadowed, and that's kind of been his M.O. since entering WWE. Swagger's an unbelievable talent and gets better and better each year and I really hope he's able to break out on his own again in the near future.

23. ACH
Points: 2049
Ballots: 27
Highest Vote Received: 4th Place (Pablo Alva)
Last Year's Placement: 10th Place

TH: ACH was a victim of his own stardom. The buzz surrounding him got so hot that Ring of Honor was going to be stupid not to get him on board. For his troubles, he got shunted into a lot of Proving Ground matches and other tags where he wasn't going to get the standout opportunities he did in other companies in his breakout year. However, he made the best out of what he had and rocked the shit out of any match he was in. He arguably outshone every other performer on the Border Wars show except maybe Paul London in an opening tag match, and no matter how deep he was obscured on the card, he always found a way to stand out. He had other performances around his usual stomping grounds as well, including a fantastic tournament match in AAW against Prince Ali. I see this as his "Daniel Bryan in 2012" year in ROH. He did tons of great work with the opportunities given, but I can't help but feel that if the company had given him more time and prestige in his matches if he wouldn't have produced better. IF he's not getting the same opportunities in ROH (or maybe even NXT???) in 2014 that Bryan got in WWE in 2013, then the wrestling world would have failed him.

Ryan Kilma: Albert C. Hardie, my 2012 #1 pick, holds the distinction of being the only Ring of Honor wrestler I have never fast-forwarded. Witnessing ACH compete in six-man tag after six-man tag is like watching Yngwie Malmsteen fool around with a makeshift Kleenex box guitar w/cardboard-tube neck: the aesthetic limitations at play make the beauty created that much more remarkable. After seeing enough matches of ACH standing around on the apron and getting little-to-no of his mind-expanding offense in has hopefully convinced his detractors that he can do much more than "movez." The way he "moves", off the ropes or standing still, to me, is a greater definition of the rush created by superb professional wrestling than any number of Avalanche Air Raid Crashes. The energy he radiates could power a dam; and missing a single second of any of his matches could mean missing out on something incredible.

Rob Pandola: A lot of people thought his breakout year was last year, but really, that was just the opening salvo. THIS was his breakout year, and it's not because of his work in ROH, although that has brought him a bit more exposure to a wider audience. No, if you want proof of his awesomeness, look no further than his Heritage Championship title reign in AAW. From the tournament which led to his crowning to his absolutely EPIC matches with Kyle O'Reilly, he was the consummate cocky baby face. He's someone that everyone can get behind, and the closest thing we will get to a 21st-century Tiger Mask. At least in spirit.

Mike Pankowski: I just love the style of ACH in the ring. He makes every move look so smooth in the ring. His kick and flip variations make me say thing like “Oh, that had to hurt” to “Wow, how the hell did he do that??” ACH also brings a good supply of video game inspired offense that warms my gamer heart. I’m glad to see more companies use ACH last year, and hope that number continues to grow.

Brandon Stroud: Watching ACH get new opportunity after new opportunity makes me feel proud. I've gotten to see this guy come up from being a scrawny kid with a dated Taimak gimmick to being one of the most exciting performers in the game, and I'm glad to be sharing him with the world. I knew he'd made it when I logged on to WWE 2K14 to make his create-a-wrestler and somebody'd beaten me to it.

22. Paige
Points: 2081
Ballots: 28
Highest Vote Received: 5th Place (Tristan Wolfe)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: If Emma is the mascot of NXT's excellent women's division, then Paige is the workhorse. She not only provided a sturdy base for the division itself, but because everyone who stepped in the ring with her had to play keep up, she by proxy was one of the two biggest single driving forces towards the evolution of how women could work in a WWE ring (the other being the direction of Sara "del Rey" Amato). At only 21 years of age, she had the best in-ring year of any woman on a WWE roster (excepting maybe Emma, but that's a personal preference thing) since Alundra Blayze, and she's going to get better.

Martin Bentley: William Regal has summed up Paige better than anyone ever could - "Ms. Hell in Boots". The former Britani Knight made NXT her personal playground in 2013, with no main roster WWE Diva, let alone developmental talent, able to keep up with her.

The one Diva that posed Paige any real problems was Summer Rae, doing so as an announcer when Paige accidentally bumped into her, but after a few sneak attacks and questionable wins, Paige was eventually able to overcome her. Paige got back on track at the right time, as NXT launched the Women's Championship in an eight woman tournament. Paige would come through Tamina Snuka and Alicia Fox in order to reach a dream final with another developmental Diva who had spent time in SHIMMER, the bubbly Australian Emma.

After an intense battle that was arguably the best televised women's match of the year, Paige bested Emma to become the first champion, and she didn't look back from there. Anyone who challenged her fell victim to the Paige Turner, with only main roster star Natalya taking her anywhere close to defeat. In a fantastic class of female talent in WWE developmental, Paige stood way above the rest, and that's saying something.

Joey O.: The women's division on NXT never fails to entertain, with a multi-dimensional cast of characters and wrestling styles, and the first-ever NXT Woman's Champ was the epicenter of it all.

Tristan Wolfe: Paige owned the NXT Women's Division in 2013. Paige is another one where she can make a good match out of any opponent and a great match out of a decent one. Paige is one of the most technically sound wrestlers in all of professional wrestling. I'm not just talking women's wrestling, I'm talking any wrestling. She's that good.

Brandon Spears: We're well into the 21st century and there's still a contingent of wrestling fans who believe women can't wrestle. She has a certain aura about her (and it's not just her beauty) where you just *believe* that she wants to destroy her competition. Just ruthless, and it's really fun to root for.

Brandon Stroud: Paige is great. When I say that I mean "a great pro wrestler" and also the boy "great," which is a totally different thing. I love that we have a truly alternative Diva now, someone who isn't afraid to get fired up and brutal in the ring, and someone who doesn't have a horrid spray tan. She's very good. In all the definitions.

21. Alberto del Rio
Points: 2156
Ballots: 29
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Samuel DiMascio)
Last Year's Placement: 8th Place

TH: I admit to taking Alberto del Rio for granted sometimes, but I think a lot of that is WWE's fault. They have him work in the same cycles, where he would suffer an "upset" loss then come out the next couple of weeks and kick the shit out of Kofi Kingston. But then he'll always come back with these masterful performances whether on pay-per-view or free television where he bumps his ass off, works the arm to a tee, and provides a canvas of villainy for any babyface to garner a sympathetic reaction through the course of the match. While 2013 wasn't his best year by any stretch of the imagination, an off year for him is something a guy like Kingston would have to strain and improve to attain as a best.

Samuel DiMascio: In a year where a lot of top names in injured for a portion of the year, not put on NXT television, or simply not performing up to their standards, ADR shined. From the first episode of SmackDown for 2013, going against the Big Show in a Last Man Standing match he made a claim early to be one of the top wrestlers of the year. Despite the idea that the World Heavyweight Championship was a worthless belt, Del Rio used it as a cornerstone for many of his feuds throughout the year which produced some of WWE’s best matches including the aforementioned Big Show match. Two other feuds with the belt in play were with Dolph Ziggler and Christian both producing under heralded PPV matches between Payback and SummerSlam respectfully. Isolating each match as something separate from his body of work doesn’t do him justice. The fact that Del Rio produced such quality in-ring work in the context of a feud, not including the outside elements, is what has me holding him in such high esteem.

TJ Hawke: The terms "overrated" and "underrated" are thrown around a lot when discussing art, and it's gotten to the point where the words have probably lost all meaning. As a result, I tend to hesitate to use those terms to describe a wrestler, match, show, promotion (movie, television show, etc), because it seems arrogant to think there is not a group of people that don't appreciate (or dislike) art at the same level as you do. However, despite all of that, I cannot help but feel that Alberto Del Rio was in fact underrated by a great many fans in 2013.

Del Rio has become one of the WWE's most consistent and interesting performers, and 2013 solidified himself with me as one my favorite wrestlers on their roster. While he's probably (ok, definitely) missing a list of classic matches that usually define "great" wrestlers, his consistency and ability to have fresh matches (a trait that I'm gradually appreciating more and more) are possibly the reasons I appreciate him more than others. I particularly encourage everyone to check out his PPV matches with Christian, Dolph Ziggler, and John Cena from 2013.

Devin Chen: PWG Matt Rushmore &emdash;
All of Mount Rushmore finished consecutively in the list? Holy crap.
Photo Credit: Devin Chen
20. Adam Cole
Points: 2218
Ballots: 28
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Joe Roche)
Last Year's Placement: 20th Place

TH: Cole has developed into one of the most outrageous heels in the ring, and perhaps the only wrestler who could work "SUCK MY DICK" taunts regularly into matches without ruining the flow of the match. He sometimes gets stuck in the trap of the Davey Richards "let's try to prolong this match as much as we can without earning it!" tendencies sometimes, but his entertainment value between the bells is an almost constant positive.


Joe Roche: Cole went the entirety of 2013 as PWG Heavyweight Champion. Not only is Cole symbolically the most important champion in U.S. independent wrestling but I can't think of any truly "bad" Cole matches. Drake Younger (twice), Sami Callihan, Kevin Steen, Kyle O'Reilly, Chris Hero and Johnny Gargano -- that's not just a list of the best independent wrestlers in the world, that's a list of the men who Cole defeated in defense of the PWG Heavyweight title in 2013. That is a murderers row of competition -- and each of those matches was at worst, very good. The Iron Man match with Callihan was awesome which is a testament to both guys because Iron Man matches on the indy scene is a potential show killer. None of his singles stuff even mentions the fact that Cole and O'Reilly as Future Shock spent a long time during the early part of the year killing it in tag team matches in PWG.

Rob Pandola: Brash, cocky, funny, always telling people to suck his most intimate of intimates... but enough about me, let's talk some Adam Cole! He is, without a doubt, the best heel going today in wrestling. He can play chicken-shit one second and absolute blood-thirsty monster the next. He can play cool, but he will always give you a reason to hate him in every match. You want to hate him, but he's just too damn good. In almost every match that I've seen him in, there is always that one point when he just stops whatever silliness he was doing and gets down to business, and it's kinda jarring when it happens, but that's the point. That's why he's where he is today. Possibly the best facials in wrestling, too.

John Rosenberger: Coming in to 2013 Adam Cole was something of an unknown quantity to me, I’ve never been a huge ROH guy and was just getting my toes wet with PWG. However 2013 was a meteoric year for Mr. Cole in my eyes. Nobody embodies the underhanded yet overconfident heel champ better than Cole in my eyes. His every move in the ring drips of cockiness with the skill to back up his brash demeanor. The worst kind of guy is one who seems like he doesn’t need to cheat but still cheats, and that, in a nutshell, is Adam Cole. Plus, I’m a sucker for a Canadian Destroyer.

19. Matt Jackson
Points: 2227
Ballots: 27
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Tom Blackett)
Last Year's Placement: 32nd Place

18. Nick Jackson
Points: 2234
Ballots: 27
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (TJ Hawke, J K)
Last Year's Placement: 30th Place

TH: The Young Bucks continue to be the best tag team in the world through a simple formula of throwing superkicks, evolving Chris Jericho's taunt structure from the late '90s, and continually pushing the boundaries of double team offense. Again, they continue to be effective heels in the hardest environment to get boos in the world, and they were the only team that could have served as the final opponents for El Generico on the indie scene. They worked just as well as pinballs for the Dojo Bros as they did trading fireworks with the Inner City Machine Guns, and the fact that they worked for every single major independent wrestling company against the best competition they could find is proof enough for me that they are among the elite workers in history.

Joe Roche: I cannot separate the Jackson brothers. I mean I've seen them wrestle individually but to me The Young Bucks are one person and every time they step into the ring they're going to put on a potential Match of the Year. Young Bucks/Monster Mafia (IWL), Young Bucks/Inner City Machine Guns/Dojo Bros (PWG), Young Bucks/Steen and El Generico (PWG), Young Bucks & Adam Cole/Forever Hooligans & TJ Perkins (PWG) -- these matches all made my Best Of 2013 list, and I could go on. I honestly cannot tell you if I've ever seen a Young Bucks match that wasn't at least very good. The tandem offense is flawless, their tag work is impeccable -- if you're a fan of tag team wrestling, than you are a fan of The Young Bucks.

Rob Pandola: It's the Young Bucks. What, I'm NOT gonna have them on my list? COME ON!!! What else NEEDS to be said that hasn't already.

Joey Splashwater: The Young Bucks always give me my money's worth. I enjoyed just about every match they had in 2013. In three different promotions, they stole the show at about 5 live shows I attended. These guys are among my favorites in wrestling and I hope 2014 is even better.

Brandon Spears: In my three or so years of watching them, I don't think I've ever seen a bad Young Bucks match. And that's the highest compliment I can give to them.

17. Kevin Steen
Points: 2243
Ballots: 27
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (David Kincannon)
Last Year's Placement: 9th Place

TH: Just when I thought Steen couldn't top himself, he went and dragged not only an enjoyable singles match out of Michael Elgin, but an objectively great one in Ring of Honor of all places. I almost went to the Vatican after seeing that match at Death before Dishonor to put him in for early, living sainthood. The rumors of his demise, obviously, have been greatly overstated, and if he's working hurt, then he's not really showing it. He continued his trend of sustained excellence across every indie promotion in the country against opponents running the gamut from Elgin to the Young Bucks to John Hennigan even.

The rush to crown the next big thing in indie wrestling seems to have left Steen being taken for granted. A reason exists that Beyond Wrestling went to him to be the anchor for their national coming out party. Ring of Honor doesn't keep him around because it's a charitable organization. Squared Circle Wrestling doesn't keep bringing him back because he's local, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla isn't booking him on a legend's tour. The man may not be up to working two or three matches on a single card like he was a couple of years back, but he's still bringing quality in every contest he enters, on every bottom line he signs onto. If you think the game is passing Steen by, then you're sorely mistaken. The only way he'll stop thrilling crowds between the bells on the indies is if he either retires or he gets signed to WWE. If the latter's the case, he'll light it up in NXT rings at least. The man is a consummate professional and one of the finest wrestlers ever, and 2013 was just another year where he showed what he was all about.

Alex Torres: Did I vote for him just because of his love of zoos? The world may never know.

Rob Pandola: The only guy I've ever seen that truly looks like he's having more fun in the ring than you are in the audience.

John Rosenberger: Big guy athleticism is a trait I am endlessly fond of and Steen has it in spades. He can work as a heel just as easily as he can work as a face but his heel work is where he really shines. Theres a certain gleeful look in his eyes when he engages in some of the most brutal acts of violence belies a certain level of depravity that sends chills down your spine yet his joyful exuberance can put a smile on your face and therein lies the best explanation I have why Steen is so high on my list.

Joey Splashwater: Consistent as can be, Kevin Steen always brings the fun and showed it in the ring with a wide array of opponents in quite a few promotions. I think he's the hottest act on the indies, yes due to his personality but also because you know you're in for a fun match no matter who he is facing and 2013 was an example of that.

16. Big E Langston
Points: 2287
Ballots: 35
Highest Vote Received: 9th Place (Joe Kearns)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: Langston (fuck you, WWE, he has a full name) burst onto the scene in WWE early in 2013, and he built a solid arc of in-ring action all the way through the end of the year. WWE's new generation of athletic, mobile, talented hosses seems to have built part of its foundation on Langston, who started the year mostly in tags and comedic matches. Of course, nothing is wrong with either, and he shone brightly in what was one of the best funny matches of the year against Ricardo Rodriguez and Zeb Colter. He later would have a superb series against Alberto del Rio while the James to his Meowth Dolph Ziggler was feuding with him. He'd parlay that success into an Intercontinental Championship reign where he worked hard in every match put in front of him. His debut year on the big roster was good, but I think he can do a lot better. If given the opportunity, I think he totally will.

15. Luke Harper
Points: 2299
Ballots: 32
Highest Vote Received: 6th Place (Bill Hanstock)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: I didn't catch as much Harper in 2013 as I would have liked, as I got on the NXT train fairly late in the year. However, he was the one member of the Wyatt Family who got to have spotlight matches, including a girthy, lengthy affair against Daniel Bryan on the last RAW of the year. He was the anchor for his team with Erick Rowan, and when Bray Wyatt couldn't wrestle due to injury in the fall, Harper stepped in more than admirably.

Frank McCormick: Bray Wyatt may be the star of the Wyatt Family, and Erick Rowan's got the mask going on, but for me the true breakout of the group is The Man Laundry Forgot, Luke Harper. He's a goddamn HOSS, and he will clothesline the fuck out of you. His Alligator Roll is so breathtakingly simple, yet so perfect. It's his intensity that's most unnerving, though. Bray gets to make creepy speeches and spider-walk, but I honestly think Luke Harper's staring, beard and hair wild, is probably the most chilling thing in wrestling today.

Brandon Stroud: Luke Harper can GO. If you haven't figured this out yet, you need to pay attention.

AJ Lee, nonchalantly dodging a Kaitlyn spear, had a breakout year in 2013
Photo Credit:
14. AJ Lee
Points: 2488
Ballots: 33
Highest Vote Received: 4th Place (Rich Thomas, Andrew Rosin)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: Lee was a victim of the main roster's apathy-bordering-on-antipathy for women's wrestling, but she submitted some head-turning performances on off-programming and pay-per-view. Her feud with Kaitlyn was always at least decent when it flared up, mostly due to Lee's willingness to rag-doll herself for her bestie's HOSS-GIRL offense. She also applies her signature submission finish, the Black Widow, with style and grace despite working with some competitors who can't even run the ropes correctly let alone get in position to take the move.

Ryan Kilma: By late 2012 AJ, a brightspot of gameshow NXT and prehistoric Best and Worst of Raw reports, was reduced to a prop by creative--switching between wrestlers more often than any of the six championship belts. Her only showcases between the ropes were in intergender tags with current beau X and a Bikini Battle Royale. Circa 2013, AJ stuck a pink Chuck Taylor into the revolving door of wrestler boyfriends (possibly trapping Chuck Taylor inside), grew a surname (Lee, of FCW lore) and began blazing a trail for WWE women's wrestling. Would it be too much to say "blayzing?" Her Divas Championship match with ex-Chickbuster Kaitlyn at Payback was the best WWE match between two women since Alundra Blayze was suplexing Joshis everywhere. Although they're vastly different titles separated by space and time, it's almost as if Lee retrieved the WWF Women's Championship belt Blayze unceremoniously dumped in the garbage on Nitro and (futile or not) began restoring its luster one Aksana match at a time. #AJ(Conquers)All

Frank McCormick: The Divas in general have drawn a very sorry lot for a very sorry amount of time. Terrible matches, terrible gimmicks, terrible lack of any discernible character other than "pretty lady." Through the sheer power of her "crazy," AJ stood out all year (as she did the year before), demanding the crowd's attention and standard Divas apathy one Shining Wizard and Black Widow at a time. And even if she's in one the atrocious multiple-Diva clusterfucks WWE seems so fond of, where each of them get about two moves each, one of which has to be a hair grab, her commitment to character, the unstable dark pixie who will murder your FACE if you look at HER belt out of the side of your eye, is obvious and welcome.

Brock Lutefisk: I think 2013 will be known as the year of Total Divas. WWE has gone all out and tried to push the cast and given them airtime. The one woman who wasn’t part of Total Divas received my highest vote. AJ Lee is an outstanding talent in the ring and her 2013 was great. I honestly thought her matches with Kaitlyn were great.

Brandon Bosh: AJ Lee deserves better. Here is a virtuosic performer with ten times the charisma and presence of Randy Orton or Batista, having proven herself as the equal of main-event players like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and John Cena, inexcusably relegated to heatless lumberjill fuckfests just because no other WWE Diva is in the same stratosphere. It’s a damn crime. But, of course, I’m here to talk about the wrestling. Fortunately, AJ is just as skilled inside the ring.

Despite being afforded limited opportunities to hone her craft against competent opponents, AJ has made great strides as a wrestler since her inauspicious NXT debut. As a lifelong wrestling fan, she holds a significant edge over every other current Diva (with the obvious exception of Natalya). To know wrestling, you need to watch wrestling, to obsess over it for years upon years. AJ is a consummate student of the game, as Good Ol’ J.R. would probably say. Her passion manifests itself in how expertly she plays whatever role is asked of her, be it a spunky underdog or a conniving spider-woman. She also takes some of the best bumps in the business, often folding in half like an accordion upon hitting the mat. (This is why Kaitlyn was her optimal in-ring adversary; no one sells a spear like AJ Lee.) I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the single greatest asset in AJ’s repertoire: her face, or, to be more precise, her eyes. When AJ gives you that look – you know the one – you can’t help but feel awe, or terror, or maybe another emotion entirely.

I digress. TL;DR – AJ Lee is the shit and deserves every bit of the success she’s earned.

13. Dolph Ziggler
Points: 2730
Ballots: 38
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: 3rd Place

TH: The only person whom I charted as having more "good" matches in 2013 than Ziggler was Daniel Bryan, but unlike many of the people I had ranked ahead of him like Antonio Cesaro, John Cena, and even Randy Orton, Ziggler's "great" match resume was a bit lacking. Still, being the old reliable for something decent is nothing to be ashamed of. He scaled back his FULL ZIGGLER bumping enough out of self preservation and a little bit of a better groove on offense than in year's past. Despite his lack of time-consuming matches on RAW and pay-per-view towards the end of the year, he always seemed to work hard on the B-shows and below, which is always a great trait to have.

Brock Lutefisk: If this list was done after May of last year, I’d probably put Ziggler a little higher. The guy is tremendously talented, there’s no doubt about it. But man, he really did fall off a cliff around the summer time and hasn’t really recovered from it since. They haven’t even given him a mid-card title or anything. Because of that, I feel like it hurt the quality of the matches he was having. It really is quite a difference between 2012 and 2013.

12. Bray Wyatt
Points: 2845
Ballots: 36
Highest Vote Received: 4th Place (Bill Hanstock, Joe Kearns)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Brandon Spears: While the most interesting aspects of The Wyatt Family have consisted of their theatrics outside of the context of a wrestling match, Bray's more than held his own in his matches. My favorite kind of wrestler is an athletic fat man, so I've loved him even since his Husky Harris days. Considering his matches only got better into the new year, I look forward to seeing where he ranks in twelve months.

VINTAGE Orton was hugely improved in 2013
Photo Credit:
11. Randy Orton
Points: 2933
Ballots: 37
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Mike F., Robot Hammer, Brock Lutefisk)
Last Year's Placement: 42nd Place

TH: In the past, dissing Randy Orton was easy. He never bumped, relied on the pop from the RKO to make his matches seem like they were good, and played down below his own potential. In 2013, thanks to finding his spark against competition like The Shield and especially Daniel Bryan, Orton became one of the best wrestlers within WWE. By the end of the year, he wasn't just having better matches with people ahead of him on the talent food chain, but he started to get entertainment value with wrestlers against whom the well was supposed to be dry. No one, and I mean no one wanted to see him wrestle John Cena again, and yet their TLC main event match was one of the best of the year. I credit this to finding an actual sadistic bent to his offense, especially after turning heel, and a willingness to take the big bump that was missing in prior feuds. Orton blew me away in 2013.

Brandon Spears: 2011 might've been Randy's best in-ring work, but for me there was always something missing and it's something most people generally agree on: Randy Orton just seems like kind of a prick and the less they showcase that the less interesting he becomes. Thankfully, 2013 changed that for the better. In the wake of Daniel Bryan's feud with The Authority and Batista's return to WWE, Orton got kind of lost in the shuffle. But he's been doing some of the best character work of his career and I hope he continues to shine in the ring.

Brock Lutefisk: I don’t know how many people will defend Randy Orton, but I’ll name myself as one of his defenders. He’s a talented wrestler and ring worker. His matches against Bryan last year were fantastic. Also, let’s not forget about Orton’s beatdown of Miz that gave us this great moment in history.

10. Cody Rhodes
Points: 3034
Ballots: 39
Highest Vote Received: 6th Place (Brandon Rohwer)
Last Year's Placement: 14th Place

TH: Rhodes keeps improving every year. When I first started watching him in 2009, he looked awkward at times, unsure of his place in the ring. This past year, he had become one of the most confident babyfaces in the company, showing that maybe comeback fire was genetic. I still think he has a little ways to go, and part of that has to do with how and where he chooses his high spots, but the fact that he was able to reinvent himself along with his brother as the new Teddy Hart and Jack Evans team deserves a huge amount of applause.

Joey Splashwater: Had the most underrated year in WWE with some stellar matches, especially tagging with Goldust vs. The Shield at the end of the year. His constant improvement is very impressive and 2013 showed a noticable in ring jump.

What a comeback this guy had in 2013, huh?
Photo Credit:
9. Goldust
Points: 3337
Ballots: 40
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Dylan Hales)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: Goldust returned to WWE in October and wrestled for the company for three months. IN that time, he put in so much great effort in the ring that I felt like I couldn't rank him anywhere out of the top three. Seriously, he was that good in the last quarter of 2013. Every match he was in felt like appointment viewing. He didn't get a whole lot of time to show off his singles skills, but feature bouts against Randy Orton and Seth Rollins scratched that itch pretty nicely in the beginning of his run. Most of his worth was shown in multiman matches, but he came back during a time when WWE was arguably featuring tags and trios matches more prominently than the singles contests anyway.

A huge reason why Goldust's run was so good was because he once again reinvented himself. Rather than doing the same things he did in 2002 or 1997 or even in 1994, he became a planchas-and-moves indie spot guy. I repeat, at 44 years of age and at six-and-a-half feet tall, Goldust started throwing ranas, doing dives to the outside, and even giving fools the Yoshi Tonic. Most wrestlers slow down at this point in their careers, but Goldust not only metamorphosed, but he did the style he changed into better than a lot of guys who have been doing it for years. Forget the execution on his hurricanrana. His timing and innate knack for knowing when and where to bust out that move, as well as other ones for a guy his size, were uncanny.

And even in the face of all that change, he still showed a grasp of tag team fundamentals that helped the Rhodes Boys get as huge as they did. He basically took the ring, got his ass beat, and showed everyone in the company what it meant to be Ricky Morton. Sometimes, I feel like that art gets lost in WWE sometimes, but Goldust made it work. And he did all of this while most of the productive story focus was shining brightly on him. His matches were given the showcases that Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton maybe should have gotten given they were in the nominally most important feud, and he knocked that shit out of the park to the point where I remember his and his brothers' runs through the company rather than the malaise produced by the wheels being spun in the WWE Championship feud.

No matter how many times I want to count Goldust out, he keeps coming back ferociously. This man is one of the best in-ring performers of all-time, and his 2013 will stand out as excellent, even if he only got to showcase his skills in front of a national audience for three months.

Tristan Wolfe: 2013 Goldust is NOT the same Goldust we had a decade or more ago. This is a much older man wrestling like he's 25. I don't know who Goldust is training with, where he's getting all of this, but I am always excited to see what he's going to do next. Don't get me wrong, Goldust was never a slouch in the ring, but he sure as hell wasn't doing flip dives to the outside. He's owned the tag division in 2013 alongside Cody Rhodes, but there's more to this resurgence in spirit than Cody Rhodes and I love it.

Rob Pandola: THE feel good story in wrestling in 2013, and not just because he got his act together. He came back to the WWE not just with a new attitude, but a new move set. He was moving better than guys half his age, and who the hell would have thought he would bust out a Yoshi-Tonic. ON WWE TV!!!! IN 2013!!!!!!

Brandon Stroud: Goldust's return to WWE and resurgence as one of the top performers in pro wrestling is the single best story of 2014. The second best story is that I got to know the man and shoot a horror movie with him. Trust me, his wrestling is better than any experience I'm gonna have.

The only problem is that he's TOO good. He was 44 years old in 2013, outperforming these intense young athletes at the top of their game on the regular. Hurricanranas off the second rope. Yoshi Tonics. Dives to the outside. It's scary to say, but Goldust might be a better wrestler now than he's ever been, and WWE might not be equipped to handle him. I think we all knew Dustin Rhodes was A+ from the minute he stepped into a ring, but seeing him turn a "gay molester Oscar statue" gimmick into one of the most beloved and respected men in wrestling is a true miracle of hard work, perseverance and talent.

We're probably never getting that Goldie/Cody Rhodes WrestleMania match, but man, we can sure keep thinking about it.

8. CM Punk
Points: 3521
Ballots: 40
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Chris Harrington, Cewsh, Rich Kraetsch)
Last Year's Placement: 2nd Place

TH: CM Punk had the highest of highs in 2013 – like his Herculean effort to get not one but two watchable matches out of The Rock, his epic RAW main event against John Cena, The Streak match, and the Brock Lesnar SummerSlam match which may have been the best in both competitors' careers. I enjoyed watching him in big matches, but when the company you're in has the best in-ring year in its history, and even guys like Randy fucking Orton are busting their asses week in and week out and you clearly look like you're phoning it in most weeks, a top 10 aggregate ranking feels way too generous. I write this for a guy whom I ranked in the top half of my ballot, by the by.

Ryan Kilma: If you're the type of cat that likes to gaze star ratings, practically the readings of Dave Meltzer, CM Punk appeared to have a 2013 for the ages. From late Feb.-SummerSlam, Punk participated in five consecutive matches that were awarded a near perfect ****1/2 rating by DM (which is more than he received in his entire career to that point (3) and more than Jushin Liger ever recorded in a row (2)). Detractors say his offense is sloppy-especially his savage (no capitalization) elbow drop that looks more like a Friedberg-Seltzer parody than a homage. However, Punk's rushed neckbreakers and litter of ugly bulldogs have the urgency and recklessness of a person actually fighting for his life. Miniscule ticks like body language and eye intensity are traits that Punk has mastered and can absolutely not be taught. Punk left the WWE after the Royal Rumble in order to delve into his presumably mammoth comic collection. If 2014 is truly the last time we'll see him every week, it was one hell of an epitaph.

Rob Pandola: Had a fantastic TV match with John Cena, the best matches of The Rocks comeback, the last great Undertaker Streak match at last year's WrestleMania, and had the best match with Brock Lesnar since his return. If this is his last year, it's not a bad way to go out.

Brock Lutefisk: It bugs me to think that the WWE-lore will always put Rock-Cena high up on a pedestal. I say that because I think CM Punk had a much more amazing match with the Rock at the Royal Rumble. I enjoyed Punk’s match a lot more. In a lot of ways, I feel like Punk got more out of Rock than Cena did. The Rumble match to me might have been my favorite Punk match of the year. The match with Taker at Wrestlemania was second and BRAWWK was third.

7. John Cena
Points: 3784
Ballots: 43
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Tom Blackett, Andrew Rosin, TJ Hawke, J K, Zach Brown)
Last Year's Placement: 11th Place

TH: I keep wanting to say "John Cena had a good year, but..." but the only real black mark I can hold against him in terms of actual between-the-bells action was his hideous attempt at recreating a ROH main event with The Rock at Mania. Everything else he did, from his barnburner on RAW in February with Punk to his HOSS FIGHTS with Ryback post-Mania all the way through the end of the year were quality. While his booking left something to be desired, he seemed to give more of an effort in the ring across the board rather than just against the select few wrestlers who were in his league. He worked as hard against Damien Sandow and the Real Americans as he did against Punk and Randy Orton. His best moment, however, came in a spot where two lesser wrestlers could very well have went through the numbers and said "Y'know what, we're not following that" at SummerSlam. After Brock Lesnar and Punk tore the roof off the Staples Center, Cena and Daniel Bryan proceeded to rip the walls out and bomb the shit out of the foundation with their match. The crazy part? That match was Cena's best of the year, and he wrestled with a moon of Jupiter bulging out of his elbow.

David Kincannon: “John Cena can’t wrestle.” That’s one of the main tenets of “internet wrestling fans”, right? Well, if you watched wrestling in 2013, and still hold on to that notion, then you’re just not paying attention. The overhyped WrestleMania rematch with the Rock notwithstanding, Cena had fantastic matches with a variety of opponents last year.

The one that jumps immediately to the forefront of my mind is his SummerSlam match with Daniel Bryan. These two men, who represent extremely different styles and fan bases had, quite possibly, the best WWE match of 2013. The story of “smaller, more technical wrestler vs larger powerhouse” is a great in-ring story, and I think, in this case, it benefited from both men’s status as good guys.

In addition to that classic match, he also several other great matches with competitors as disparate as CM Punk (Raw in February) and Mark Henry (Money in the Bank). The match with Punk was a completely different match than those two men have ever worked before, with Cena even working in a rarely used hurricanrana. The match with Henry was interesting, because it focused on Cena being a physical underdog, including an early failed attempt to hoist Henry up for the Attitude Adjustment.

Whether or not you like the way Cena is booked is immaterial, between the bells, the guy can get it done.

Rob Pandola: Yes, he's still Super-Cena. Yes, he still has the move set that is his bread and butter, and will always be his bread and butter. That being said, this was his best in-ring year in a LONG time. His match with CM Punk on Raw rivaled his classic with Shawn Michaels years ago, his SummerSlam epic with Daniel Bryan (with a planetoid growing out of his elbow) was a fantastic face vs. face showcase, and MADE Daniel Bryant. He might be getting older, and the injuries are becoming more frequent, but as long as he keeps slipping new things in every now and again, he's going to be very interesting to watch the next few years.

John Rosenberger: There is a reason why I wouldn’t necessarily root for Cena but I rate him fairly high and that is big game performance. I’ve not once in the past few years seen a big match with John Cena in it and been upset that he was in that match after the fact. I may not be super stoked to see him, I may feel like his victory is a foregone conclusion but I never once said “Goddamn, (Insert wrestler name here) would have done so much better than John Cena.”

Mike Pankowski: John Cena, the character, can be maddening at times. John Cena, the wrestler, can go move for move with any other wrestler on the list. He makes any long match look like he goes through a war. He isn’t afraid to pull off or receive a big move that hasn’t been used by either wrestler. The other thing about Cena is that whenever he is in a big match, he always puts out his best effort. He might be off his game on a Raw from time to time, but when the match is of the utmost importance, Cena will make sure that both he and his opponent look like the stars the people want to see.

Joey Splashwater: If you think Cena sucks at wrestling, you're an idiot. John Cena has classic matches with great wrestlers (Bryan), very good matches vs. good wrestlers (Del Rio) and tolerable matches vs. goons (Ryback). As the years go by, Cena's matches get better and better. He's currently at a pace better than Steve Austin, The Rock and Hulk Hogan ever was at when they were "the face of the company" in terms of putting on great matches.

Brandon Spears: Each year the "Five Moves of Doom" criticism of Cena gets more and more laughable. It's disappointing yet understandable why he spent the last two years against The Rock when he could've spent more time elevating guys like Bryan, Cesaro and Wyatt, but he continues to prove he's one of the most adaptable wrestlers in WWE.

6. Dean Ambrose
Points: 3857
Ballots: 43
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Dan McQuade)
Last Year's Placement: 24th Place

TH: I found ranking the individual members of The Shield to be a tricky task. Their worth was definitely tied tightest to how cohesive and definitive their work as a trio was, but each guy brought something unique to the table. Ambrose, called "the Lunatic Fringe" by Michael Cole, provided an air of unpredictability. He was so reminiscent of Roddy Piper and Brian Pillman, and that level of unhinged energy was sorely needed to make the group work.

He also took the singles platform he was given and did some good things with it. Even if he didn't defend his United States Championship as much as I would have liked, he got several shots to have showcase matches, the most notable being a post-Mania Smackdown showdown with The Undertaker. His matches with Bryan were second in quality to the ones Seth Rollins had, but they were no doubt the chippiest, which I appreciated.

Brandon Spears: I generally detest most nicknames Michael Cole gives to wrestlers, but "Lunatic Fringe" is pretty much perfect. Sometimes nothing made me happier in wrestling than when Ambrose was swinging his arms at people like he was the freakin' Tazmanian Devil.

Brandon Bosh: WWE television is a controlled environment. Improvisation is shunned, and even the most trivial event is scripted to the letter. Very little that happens on Raw or SmackDown feels organic, unplanned, or spontaneous. As such, those fleeting moments of chaos and pandemonium are essential to the vitality of the product. I don’t consider pro wrestling a “sport” in need of a raw, unscripted presentation, but I still see value in the illusion of the unknowable. To this end, no active WWE wrestler is as gloriously unknowable as Dean Ambrose.

Ambrose has been likened to a slew of esteemed wrestling legends – chief among them “Rowdy” Roddy Piper – simply because he gets it on a level most young grapplers will never fathom. He is always in character, hamming it up for the nearest camera, making lewd faces and messing with his hair. One of his signature maneuvers consists of leaping at his opponent and flailing his arms spastically, like a toddler mimicking a Thesz press. There are plenty of graceless WWE wrestlers who’ll fuck you up for real while looking totally impotent – Ryback comes to mind – but only Ambrose will make it look like your life is at stake without inflicting so much as a broken nail. The world needs more wrestlers who can do that. At the very least, we should all band together and appoint Dean Ambrose the new Charismatic Enigma, seeing as he deserves the title way more than its previous recipient.

Next week, the top five shall be breached!