|Ryback had his moments in the ring in 2013, especially against John Cena|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Highest Vote Received: 12th Place (Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: 45th Place
TH: As The Big Guy got more and more comfortable in his own skin, WWE decreased his ring time. Before he was phased out, however, he had several nice little matches where he broke out some inventive spots and threw his weight around like a big guy should. His year started out with a wonderful clusterfuck against CM Punk in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match. He had two stellar free-TV bouts against Daniel Bryan, and his tables match later on in the year on RAW against John Cena was wonderful for its awkwardness. Ryback gets an unfair rap sometimes, and his work in the ring is a huge part of why he's still one of WWE's strongest hands.
Scott T. Holland: Ryback gets points largely for his last man standing match with John Cena at Extreme Rules, which gave us one of the most memorable WWE moments of 2013.
Highest Vote Received: 8th Place (Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: 31st Place
TH: Kane, especially nowadays, has a definite ceiling, but in the first half of 2013, he right about arrived there. His work in tags and trios matches with Daniel Bryan and [partner x] against various opponents that included The Shield was on point. I don't know if going away after SummerSlam helped or hurt his case, since singles Kane has always been hit or miss. But the first half of his year was pretty darn good.
Highest Vote Received: 6th Place (Danielle Matheson)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
John Rosenberger: Trent? was another fella whom I was relatively unfamiliar with as he was underutilized in WWE, but his work in DGUSA, EVOLVE and PWG really won me over something huge, athletic and comedic is not the least common combinations in pro wrestling but usually the more one is in one direction they are in the other. Trent? can be very comedic but also can be very serious. His work as part of “The Best Friends” is pretty amazing, but he can also strong and no-nonsense as he is in DGUSA. One of my favorite matches of 2013 was Taylor vs Trent in an elks lodge that had just had a quinceanera and had left some of their balloons around. Those two worked and sold those balloons as borderline deadly foreign objects and permanently endeared him to me.
Joey Splashwater: In DGUSA, EVOLVE and PWG, Trent? has been one of the brightest stars to see wrestle on a regular basis. One of my favorite live matches in 2013 was in December at a DGUSA show vs. Rich Swann.
47. Adrian Neville
Highest Vote Received: 11th Place (Brandon Bosh)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Neville didn't have the freedom he had in the indies, which hurt him not with his impressive moveset, but with the range of motion and time given for each match. Despite those limitations, Neville was still impressive down in NXT. The most important thing was keeping his identity, what made him unique, and he was able to impress both in tags and against former partner Corey Graves at the end of the year.
Scott T. Holland: I didn’t have much (any) exposure to Adrian Neville before I started watching NXT religiously in late May. Though he was in and around the tag team and NXT title scene throughout much of 2013, generally he seems to be a wrestler who rises to the level of his competition. It’s no surprise his best showings have been against the likes of Sami Zayn (in a No. 1 contender match in November) and his less stellar performances feature opponents such as Corey Graves. Still, he’s got raw skills and plenty of potential; I predict a much stronger ranking in 2014.
46. AJ Styles
Highest Vote Received: 6th Place (Cewsh)
Last Year's Placement: 49th Place
45. Bo Dallas
Highest Vote Received: 11th Place (Brandon Rohwer)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
Scott T. Holland: Bo Dallas had a great start to 2013, winning an NXT tournament to qualify for the Royal Rumble, in which he eliminated Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett. There now are 169 wrestlers who have logged a Royal Rumble elimination, which is more than the 126 who have entered without making one elimination. But to me joining the club is noteworthy. That’s to say nothing of Dallas’ pursuit of an run as NXT champion, during which he displayed the sometimes elusive ability to wrestle in complete connection with his character.
Andrew Rosin: I'm not want to trust a man whose gimmick is pun-based, But the way Bo Dallas has been able to turn himself into the most straight up cornball face the fans love to boo has turned me into a BO-liever.
44. Kyle O'Reilly
Highest Vote Received: 5th Place (Pablo Alva)
Last Year's Placement: 55th Place
Joe Roche: Here's the thing about Kyle O'Reilly, he uses an arm bar finisher, so he spends most of the match working over your arm/shoulder. I know that sounds obvious, but not many people do that. Hell The Miz uses the figure four, so he spends an entire match hitting you in the head and then CRITICAL FIGURE FOURS you out of nowhere. Kyle has great psychology, but he's also the best version of Davey Richards that we have in wrestling. He uses a ton of kicks, and Muay Thai offense and he's got that whole MMA vibe to his skill set. However, he does everything with purpose. He locks on submissions with speed, he strikes with quickness, he links his moves together -- Kyle O'Reilly will be at the top of this list someday, I guarantee it.
Rob Pandola: reDRagon is a great tag-team that took some time to grow on me, and the only reason why was because I knew how great Kyle was as a singles competitor. I started to see glimpses of it in AAW with his series against ACH, but then his match at TEN against T.J. Perkins opened my eyes to his potential. His potential became reality at BOLA. It's his resume. If someone wants to know what all the fuss is about, you hand him both nights of the 2013 BOLA. Submission's out of nowhere. Kicks that will knock you out. Endless counters. THIS is how you infuse MMA into wrestling.
Joey Splashwater: In terms of purely in ring work, Kyle O'Reilly is at the top tier of this list. His tag team work with Bobby Fish and being ROH tag champs for most of the year featued many great matches featuring reDRagon. In PWG, Kyle was one of the best things going as he won the 2013 Battle of Los Angeles and was a breakout singles star. Even in smaller feds like AAW, I watched some of his work and dude always was on point.
|Tim Donst's underhanded tactics were a big part of his excellence at telling a story|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (John Rosenberger)
Last Year's Placement: 34th Place
TH: Tim Donst's finest moment this year came in a match against a ring announcer. That statement is not a knock. His match with Gavin Loudspeaker at the final Chikara show of the year (in June?!?!?) was pro wrestling distilled into its finest form, a theatrical stage show full of exaggeration and larger than life personalities preening for the audience. Sure, he had some other great contests, especially against Colt Cabana at Wrestling Is Art's debut show, but this match was one of the best stories told in a ring in 2013.
Alex Torres: Pay attention, or you might miss one of the best guys going today. There's nothing holding him back. He made something magical happen at Absolution 8, not something I feel often in indie wrestling.
Ryan Kilma: Donstantine's 2013 Chikara season was proof positive that wins don't matter in professional wrestling. Despite being on the losing end of all his matches in the shortened Chikalender, Donst retained his status as one of the premier mat wrestlers on the indie circuit through via veteran-like consistency and generosity. His A:NC match with Gavin Loudspeaker is a perfect bout to show wrestlers-in-training. The contest wasn't eyeball-popping, but was certainly one of the more competent matches featuring a non-wrestler in recent memory. It never had the chance to reach the inanity of Lawler-Cole because Donst was the one in the director's chair. The overused trope to identify a splendid wrestler is that they can "have a match with a broomstick;" and TD had a pretty cromulent match with someone possessing a broomstick-like physique, so now what?
Rob Pandola: His match agains Gavin Loudspeaker at Never Compromise was WAY better than it had any right to be, and a lot of that credit needs to go to Donst. That being said, the best Tim Donst is AIW Tim Donst. Against Michael Hutter, Eddie Kingston, Mickie Knuckles and Chris Hero, he brought a fire that you felt in every move he made. A sense of frustration, of not being accepted. It was as if he wasn't just fighting the people he was in the ring with, but his own personal demon's at the same time, like each victory took another one away. The most interesting wrestler, if only because he was the most compelling.
John Rosenberger: Nobody has told more effective in-ring stories in 2013 than Tim Donst. His story of a bully alienating his only group of friends slowly but surely was told as effectively via in-match actions as any promo or vignette, then you have his ongoing feud with Eddie Kingston that spanned the Midwest and was filled with heartfelt anger and hatred towards each that felt so authentic and so real that it was impossible not to get swept up in. In addition to this you have standalone matches that tell incredible stories like that between him and Chris Hero at AIW or with Cabana in WIA, that prove he can be just as effective of a story teller in a single match as he can in a prolonged feud.
42. Chuck Taylor
Highest Vote Received: 7th Place (Danielle Matheson)
Last Year's Placement: 44th Place
Ryan Kilma: No one since Paul Heyman has revolutionized the concept of hardcore wrestling as much as Chuck Taylor, and I'm saying that without even a whiff of irony.
Rob Pandola: I have more Chuck Taylor or Chuck-Taylor-related t-shirts than any other wrestler In my closet. This has nothing to do with anything, I just thought this public forum would be the right place to say that. He also had a fantastic match with Drew Gulak that ended up being my favorite match of Gulak's CZW title reign so far. Add the wonderful dynamic he has with Trent? In Best Friends and it all adds up to one of his best years on the indies so far.
Mike Pankowski: Chuck is easily the best wrestler at telling stories in 15 second title matches on Instagram. But you can see why that can be when he competes normally. Chuck brings a good amount of comedy to his matches while also having a varied move set. You will never watch a bad or an unenjoyable Chuck Taylor match, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (George Hazar)
Last Year's Placement: 51st Place
TH: Most of the footage I saw of Ricochet in 2013 was his work with Rich Swann in the Inner City Machine Guns. Luckily, that team kinda ruled and made for some of the most entertaining tag team matches of the year. Ricochet's shtick works on so many different levels, but because he's so frenetic and engaging, his best wrestling comes in the manic tag environs found in PWG.
Samuel DiMascio: Ricochet may very well be the perfect PWG worker. The company is all about seeing absolutely insane stunts for the people jamming into the small sweat box of an American Legion that stands in Reseda, California. Ricochet does the most insane stunts and makes the Legion that much hotter. There he’s worked great in tags in trios. In that environment he is able do all the flips and jaw dropping moves without it seeming nonsensical. Ricochet does things other wrestlers can’t and he does it with style that other wrestlers couldn’t dare match.
Rob Pandola: His "Evolutions End" match against AR Fox was a great showcase for his versatility and his improv skills, but the standout moment for him was at All-Star Weekend 9 with Rich Swann vs. AR Fox and Samuray Del Sol. The exchange with Del Sol was a look into the future. The next evolution of the "Matrix Minuet". Pure Technical Ecstasy.
40. Eddie Kingston
Highest Vote Received: 10th Place (Robot Hammer)
Last Year's Placement: 21st Place
Samuel DiMascio: Kingston is one of the few Chikara wrestlers who can leave the confines of the promotion and fit in in another promotion equally if not better than his home. His work in Chikara was spectacular. The fact that he got a really good match out of Icarus would be more than enough for the Grand Champ to rank favorably with me. That doesn’t take into account the two rather awesome matches he had with Green Ant. One thing that Kingston does that I can’t see myself ever getting sick of is him selling his leg. He does it so magically that every wrestler he faces looks like a threat and at the same time he looks like a beast for powering through it. Kingston was a big part of why I viewed the first half of the year of Chikara as the best in-ring indie for those six months.
Rob Pandola: His decent into madness in Chikara was wonderful, with matches against Green Ant, Kevin Steen and Archibald Peck as highlights. His match with Icarus is a master class in the art of the double turn, especially looking back on the history of each man separately in Chikara. His transformation into an old-school heel was complete with his work in Wrestling Is Cool against Eric Corvis and Frightmare. He debuted for AAW, and immediately started a great feud with former champ Silas Young that was talked about more for the promos more than anything else, but the matches were right on the same level, featuring fantastic work from both. No one was able to bring pure street attitude into the ring better than him last year.
Frank McCormick: Eddie Kingston is a man with demons. Many, many demons. Even when he's in one of his smiling, happy moods, he's only a blink away from complete nuclear meltdown. He takes, nay invites, the pain his competitors dish out, using it as nectar and ambrosia for the tormenting demons inside him, the demons that suplex and backfist opponents into submission, or even other timelines. There's something raw and wild to Kingston. He wrestles because he can't not do so, lest he self-destruct, and that desperation makes him compelling, and terrifying, to behold.
John Rosenberger: Is Eddie Kingston the best wrestler in the world? Probably not, but what he lacks in grace and athleticism he makes up for in toughness and character work. Is it hard to play the jaded New Yorker with a chip on his shoulder? No. However it seems to be hard do so while making it feel so authentic and not like a guy doing a caricature of a Jaded New Yorker with a chip on their shoulders. While not the most original character in the world, Eddie embodies his persona in the ring without out even hinting that his true nature might be anything other than what showcases itself between the ropes.
39. Bully Ray
Highest Vote Received: 6th Place (Andrew Rosin)
Last Year's Placement: 17th Place
Brandon Spears: It continues to amaze me that in 2013 Bubba Ray Dudley was the one of the least embarrassing parts of (arguably) the number two wrestling promotion in the country.
38. Jey Uso
Highest Vote Received: 12th Place (Brandon Rohwer)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
37. Jimmy Uso
Highest Vote Received: 13th Place (Brandon Rohwer)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: The Usos got over on their own, partially through a cool entrance, but also because they worked their asses off in the ring and made people get behind them. They helped bring tag wrestling back in vogue in WWE in the later part of the year, and their frequent run-ins with The Shield, especially on the Money in the Bank pre-show, were always a hit.
|Greg Excellent felt the rocket that was Biff Busick in 2013|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Highest Vote Received: 5th Place (Rob Pandola, Frank McCormick)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Busick, or O'Rourke for those who only know him through the Chikaraverse, came out of nowhere and took 2013 by storm. His year could be distilled into two major feuds: Drew Gulak and Eddie Edwards. However, his ancillary matches in the various Wrestling Is promotions shouldn't be taken lightly. He had a fun romp with the Estonian Thunder Frog at Wrestling Is Respect, and his match with Sugar Dunkerton at the Art debut was one of the best of the year. His best match, however, may have come in front of "the boys" at the CZW school for a Beyond taping against AR Fox.
Alex Torres: A phenomenal athlete who understands the little things better than anyone else, Biff came out of nowhere and became one of the best wrestlers of 2013.
Joe Roche: Biff Busick is a wrestling tank. Trained by Lance Storm the dude throws an amazing Half and Half Suplex, he's incredibly athletic, he can mat wrestle with the best of them and he can go all night. Over the course of 2013 Busick engaged in two of the best series of matches I saw all year. His bouts as Francis O'Rourke in the Wrestling Is.. family against Drew Gulak were works of art. I can't recommend a set of matches more, each one builds off the previous match and they tell a compelling story from start to finish. Biff technical wrestled his ass off against Gulak and proved that he could hang with the European style and then he engaged in one of the choppiest set of matches I've ever seen with Eddie Edwards in Beyond Wrestling. Adam Cole and Sami Callihan had a good Iron Man match in PWG -- but Busick/Edwards at Beyond Wrestling "Tournament For Tomorrow 2" was absolutely incredible. Over the course of the year Busick proved that he can go hold for hold, or strike for strike with two of the best in the world and established himself as one of the "must see" independent wrestlers in the country moving forward.
Rob Pandola: My other favorite wrestler to watch live. The greatest compliment I can give him is that I have yet to see a bad match with him in it. He started the year with an instant classic with Drew Gulak on National Pro Wrestling Day, which started a rivalry still going today, went to the J-LIT and had a classic with ACH, and starting with Beyond Wrestling's We Care A Lot show, the best in-ring feud in wrestling last year with Eddie Edwards. Their matches were stiff, technical, and balls to the wall. Every move meant something. Nothing seemed out of place, and they pushed each other to get better, match after match. No one has yet to out-perform him in the ring.
35. Michael Elgin
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Martin Bentley)
Last Year's Placement: 23rd Place
TH: My distaste for Elgin is well-documented, but he had a pretty good year for the times I saw him. He's a lot better in tags, and his teaming with Brian Cage in PWG yielded more than a few good moments. I also saw him have the first singles match of his that I ever enjoyed against Kevin Steen at Death before Dishonor.
Alex Torres: The last minute revelation that he could be funny (as one of the Men of the Year) put him over the edge as a complete performer.
Martin Bentley: One thing Ring of Honor is known for is waiting far too long to pull the trigger on certain wrestlers - Tyler Black and Davey Richards being a couple of notable examples. A man very much still in progress in this regard is "Unbreakable" Michael Elgin, and though he had his moments in ROH in 2013, including fantastic matches with the likes of Jay Lethal, Roderick Strong and Adam Cole, he earns my #2 vote more for what he achieved outside of his main employers.
First, PWG. The man tore the place up, often alongside Brian Cage in the Unbreakable Fucking Machines. Elgin and Cage took on the likes of The Young Bucks, Future Shock, the Inner City Machine Guns and Best Friends in tag team competition, whilst in singles matches, Elgin once again made the final of the Battle of Los Angeles, but once again falling short, this time to Kyle O'Reilly. He also had solid outings against AR Fox and ACH whilst in Reseda.
Elgin started the year as the AAW Heavyweight Champion, and ended it as one half of the AAW Tag Team Champions, alongside "All Ego" Ethan Page. His singles reign included great defences against the likes of Silas Young, Mat Fitchett, Davey Richards and MASADA, before finally dropping the title in a fantastic contest with Shane Hollister. Following the title loss, Elgin went on a rampage, before somehow being roped in by Page to replace Josh Alexander in his tag team, and in their first match together as a team, they upended Kung Fu Manchu in a three way with Zero Gravity to take the titles.
The rest of the year was spent touring the world, including stops in England, Germany and Australia, whilst also making an impact in AIW, where he had a fantastic series of matches with Josh Alexander, before ending the year as AIW Absolute Champion, taking the title from Ethan Page. Elgin did everything bar a Japanese tour, and you'd suspect that won't be too far along in his future the way he's going.
Joe Roche: I would argue that there is nobody better at the thing they do best than Michael Elgin. I'm not sure I'd recommend you sit down and watch a compilation of Elgin matches because I think you're going to see a ton of stuff on repeat and it'll wear you down, but on a full card, Michael Elgin goes out every night and tries to steal the show. The great thing about Elgin is that he's able to adapt his strong style to fit anyone. Elgin's 30 minute time limit draw with Josh Alexander from AIW earlier this year was one of the single best matches I saw all year long, but his AIW Heavyweight Title defense against Andrew Everett was a completely different challenge but equally strong match. Elgin's stalling suplex is a move I hate -- I just don't like the idea of stopping a match for 60 seconds to watch how strong you are, and how much balance the other guy has. However, Elgin catching guys bouncing off the ropes, or deadlift suplexing people from the outside of the ring into the ring is impressive. There is no doubt that Elgin is super strong. I also think Elgin is one of those guys who allows his opponents to get their shit in, and does everything he can to make his opponents look good. Elgin single handedly kicked off the Year of JT Dunn by absolutely making him at "Point of No Return" for Beyond Wrestling in a match that I was out of breath just watching.
Rob Pandola: He had WAY too many great matches this year, too many to list here, but there's two that I think people are kinda sleeping on. The first one is his series of matches with #WalkingWeapon in AIW. In those matches, they were both able to show off their technical ability, their strength game, and their under-rated speed and brawling. The other one? At AAWs Defining Moment, he stepped in the ring with Keith Walker and had the best HOSS match of the year. Walker came in going on a two-year undefeated streak in AAW. He was the toughest guy in the room, and the most threatening. It was a match they had been building up to for a while, and it more than lived up to its expectations. If there's one match I would say you need to go out of your way to see from last year, it's this one. HOSS HEAVEN!!!
|Green Ant, along with assailANT, did some work in the tag ranks, part of his well-rounded year|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Philip Rosenbaum)
Last Year's Placement: 43rd Place
TH: Green Ant may be the most well-rounded graduate of the Chikara Wrestle Factory ever. He can wrestle any style, in any match type, and against any opponent. He did singles matches well. He and Fire Ant were a great tag team, and of course, as his teammates grew, so did his propensity to wrestle well. He took on mat-grappling, high spots, power moves, submission wrestling. He branched out and he planted roots further in his home company, or after June 2, companies. Few wrestlers show the width and breadth of ability in a career that Green Ant showed this year. Most wrestlers would be defined by leaping from the balcony of the Trocadero; for Green Ant, it was just another feather in a hat already donned in colorful plumage.
David Kincannon: Since the moment I started watching Chikara, Green Ant has been my favorite member of the Colony. In 2013, he did nothing to dissuade me from that opinion, as he had fantastic matches all year long, no matter what promotion he was wrestling for. To that end, the “closing” of Chikara for most of 2013 was probably more helpful to Green Ant than any other wrestler in the company. Not only did he wrestle in most of the Wrestling Is organizations, but he also wrestled for Evolve, NEFW and Beyond Wrestling, giving him exposure to more fans and giving him access to a wider range of opponents to show what he can do.
He performed more than admirably in Beyond’s Tournament for Tomorrow II, having great matches with Darius Carter, Matthew Palmer and Aaron Epic before meeting JT Dunn in the finals at Fete Music. He and Dunn wrestled an extremely intense match, hitting each other with everything that they had. We even saw a vicious side of Green Ant that we don’t see very often, opening up Dunn’s forehead and then proceeding to headbutt Dunn right on the open wound..
With additional great matches against Eddie Kingston, Mike Quackenbush and Drew Gulak, among others, 2013 was a banner year for the Colony’s break-out star.
Joe Roche: No individual performer benefited more from the CHIKARA shutdown angle than Green Ant. He was always considered a great technical wrestler but I really think going out on his own, having singles matches against new and previously untested opponents really pushed Green Ant to a new level. His performance in the Tournament For Tomorrow 2 was awesome including just an absolutely amazing finals against JT Dunn. I don't think Green Ant had as many standout matches in the Tournament as Dunn, but the match with Aaron Epic was a really good example of the mat wrestling technique that Green Ant has perfected.
33. Damien Sandow
Highest Vote Received: 5th Place (Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: 15th Place
TH: Sandow is one of the best villainous workers in WWE today. A lot of guys can talk the talk when it comes to being a bad guy, but no one's offense has a better way of conveying bad intentions. His laborious and overbearing stomps and relentless choking do more than just chew up heat segments; they set up glorious comebacks for the opponent which are aided and abetted by some of the best begging off you'll ever see in a WWE ring. If pushes were commensurate to ability, Sandow would've ended 2013 on top of the world, especially after the master stroke of a failed cash in of his Money in the Bank briefcase on John Cena. The world may remember it in the long term as the worst failed booking opportunity ever, but Sandow was brilliant in that match, brilliant enough to overlook the fact that he lost the briefcase without taking the title.
Highest Vote Received: 10th Place (Willow Maclay)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Man, she can wrangle anyone for a submission hold, can't she? The Dancing Queen of NXT had one hell of a year inside the ring. Above everything else she did, she showed some incredible range. Her feud with Paige produced some of the best women's wrestling in a WWE-owned ring since Bull Nakano took on Alundra Blayze, but on the other side of the table, she and Santino Marella engaged in one of the best comedic matches of the year against Fandango and Summer Rae. When you have that kind of versatility, the sky's the limit.
31. Mark Henry
Highest Vote Received: 14th Place (Chris McDonald, Joe Kearns)
Last Year's Placement: 27th Place
Brandon Spears: Due to his age and injuries, he'll probably never reach the Hall of Pain levels he got to in 2011, but that doesn't take away the presence he carries with himself in every match he's in. Bonus points for bringing back the Junkyard Dog headbutt.
30. AR Fox
Highest Vote Received: 9th Place (David Kincannon)
Last Year's Placement: 36th Place
TH:Honestly, I don't know how this guy is alive. The risks he takes on offense and the bumps he absorbs on the other end would be enough to turn my hair white… well, whiter than it already is, if I were asked to do it. Yet he makes everything he does look easy. He's even added working rudo to his repertoire. His match to kick off the Tournament for Tomorrow studio tapings against Shynron was textbook heat-mongering and helped get his opponent's sympathies over huge. He's got a unique look, seamless offense, and fearlessness that might end up getting him killed one day. How is he not signed yet?
Alex Torres: AR Fox actually died three years ago, and the person who wrestles now is a zombie. That's how he does what he does.
Joe Roche: Once you get over the fact that 75% of what AR Fox does is absolute nonsense and you just agree to sit back and enjoy the show you can't help but not enjoy Fox. The transformation from happy, super athletic guy - into arrogant, super athletic guy took place in 2013 and it was a joy to behold. Fox's offense makes more sense coming from someone who is doing this insane offense because he can, and you can't stop him. I thought Fox's Evolve 23 and Evolve 24 matches with Anthony Nese and Ricochet were really good but if you're looking for some Fox matches to check out I'd recommend PWG BOLA 2013 including the Adam Cole & The Young Bucks v, Fox, Swann and Candice LaRae. I think his running dive over the corners to the outside is great, his jumping from the second to third rope and back around for an arm drag is nonsense, but I've seen him hit death valley drivers on the ring apron that looks amazing and also deadly too -- so the guy can do some compelling hard hitting offense mixed in with his insanity.
Rob Pandola: Still to this day the only wrestler I've ever seen who has made me say "WHY WOULD HE DO THAT??" not because of bad spots or stupid mistakes, but because of his continuing quest to take his skills and his physical endurance to new levels. There are a lot of wrestlers out there who claim the mantle of "Homicidal" or "Genocidal", but there's only one who, without question, holds the title of "Suicidal". Lo Mein Pain will never not look impressive.
Highest Vote Received: 10th Place (Andrew Rosin)
Last Year's Placement: 7th Place
TH: Sheamus was well on his way to having another banner year and a solid top three finish on my ballot behind Cesaro and Bryan. Then, he tore a rotator cuff at Money in the Bank and sat out until the calendar expired. Tough break for a workhorse. Still, he put in some major work before he went out with the injury, including a few solid trios matches against The Shield, a bunch of one-offs against opponents like Bryan, Cesaro, and other old foes like Alberto del Rio, and of course, that Money in the Bank ladder match where he was injured in the first place. He gets MAJOR points for working a couple of dates after the injury took place with a MASSIVE hematoma. I know it probably didn't affect him either way, but man, the visual put an extra exclamation point on his performances pre-diagnosis.
Brandon Spears: Here's a guy who's been rightfully chided for his dickish, cartoonish behavior in feuds with Alberto Del Rio and The Big Show in years prior, but 2013 still proved that I just really like watching Sheamus work in the ring. Sadly, he was out for a lot of last year with an injury but here's hoping 2014 brings more of Sheamus coming out of his matches looking like he ran through a brick wall and less of Sheamus shitting in Alberto Del Rio's car.
28. Johnny Gargano
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Philip Rosenbaum)
Last Year's Placement: 25th Place
Alex Torres: He called himself our hero, and he wasn't far off.
Joe Roche: The reason I think Gargano deserves to be at the top of every "Best Of" list is perfectly encapsulated in his match with Samuray Del Sol from Evolve 22. The match was just a great example of how a match should be laid out, how a match like that should end, just everything clicked. That match happened almost a year ago and I can still vividly recall the ending and replay it in my mind. Gargano did everything right in 2013, his matches with Kevin Steen in various promotions were MAGICAL, his matches with JT Dunn were technical and brilliant and his run in Dragon Gate USA was so impressive that it started to get boring. Gargano is capable of wrestling any style, he can have a great match with a high flyer, power wrestler or mat technician. I understand that he slaps the shit out of his leg when he punches and some of the stuff he does is nonsense, but Gargano is on the very short list of guys who can have a great match with anyone, at any point in a card. When you rolls you over, tumbles on his back and kicks you in the face, it's great. Gargano can lock in the Garga-No Escape from anywhere which makes his finishes feel organic and fresh. The other great thing about Gargano is that he looks like he's getting beat up. You can't discount how important this is -- when he sells, it is effective, which makes his matches more engaging and draws you in. Watch that match with Del Sol, or his match with Kevin Steen from AIW "Hell on Earth 9" the guy was operating on another level in 2013.
Rob Pandola: This is the year I became a fan of Gargano. Don't get me wrong, I always liked him in tag's as a member of FIST, and I always thought he was a good hand to have around. Then I watched his run at J-LIT, and his bout's against Adam Cole and Kimber Lee. THEN I watched his run at BOLA, specifically his match against Michael Elgin. THEN I watched him in DGUSA do a better job of being Bo Dallas in the ring THAN BO DALLAS!!!!!! As a singles competitor, this is the year he came of age. He can switch from being an annoying, pandering heel, to entrenched ace of a company, to fight-from-behind underdog baby face. The guy made me a believer.
Joey Splashwater: Gargano was by far the best thing in DGUSA with two of my favorite matches in the promotion's history vs. Shingo at the start of the year and vs. Chris Hero at the end. His debut in PWG led to great things with awesome matches vs. Michael Elgin and Kevin Steen especially.
27. Drew Gulak
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Philip Rosenbaum)
Last Year's Placement: 99th Place
TH: Gulak's resume in 2013 is a direct rebuttal to anyone who says working the mat is boring. Granted, all of his matches ended up going to the standard indie wrestling derby finishes, none more scarily than his bout at National Pro Wrestling Day against Frank O'Rourke where he landed on the crown of his head on a half-and-half superplex. But I would argue the most interesting parts of his matches have always been the opening volleys. He has such a natural rapport with any of his opponents, and it shows in how well the grapple exchanges come off. I hope his rise to the top continues, because with tastemakers like Gulak, indie wrestling is in a good spot.
Alex Torres: The standard bearer for both CZW and Beyond, and when a bunch of WWE fans went to a DGUSA show in New York, the name they left with on their tongues was Drew Gulak's.
Martin Bentley: The Campaign for a Better Combat Zone continues, but whilst it does, Drew Gulak continues to impress the more people who see him. Of course his biggest achievement last year was winning the CZW World Heavyweight Title from MASADA, a title he has hung onto not entirely through pure skill, but there's a reason he's still the man in the Combat Zone. Don't believe me? Kimber Lee will tell you enough times.
In addition to his title win, Gulak also did battle in CZW with stars such as Tommy Dreamer, Chris Dickinson, Shane Hollister, Chuck Taylor and Chris Hero, so the level of competition he's faced for his title has proved impressive. Also, Gulak fared well in other companies, including winning EVOLVE's yearly Style Battle Tournament, capped off by a victory over a man he did battle with many times throughout the year, Biff Busick, aka Frank O'Rourke in the several times they met in the myriad of Wrestling Is promotions. Gulak also continued his dominance in Beyond Wrestling, and has made a name for himself in Dragon Gate USA.
For me, not many have impressed me as far as being mat technicians go than Drew Gulak. He stands out so well in CZW compared to almost everyone else on the roster that you can't help but notice his style, and how it's evolving CZW as a company beyond death matches and into a more varied style. The fact he's also impressing in many other companies goes to show that it's a style that many people want to see in today's wrestling, and that fans are getting educated to it. And with more worldwide experience, he'll only demonstrate more of his ability as time goes on.
Joe Roche: His matches with Biff Busick alone are enough to put him on this list, his work in the "Wrestling Is..." family of promotions was great and he is single handedly trying to bring the European style of professional wrestling back into the US independent scene. I'm not sure there is a better "mat technician" working right now than Drew Gulak. His work in CZW has also been inspired, taking the belt off Masada is no small accomplishment and carrying that belt, in the Combat Zone and wrestling that style and getting it over is a testament to his ability. Gulak is one of those guys who focuses on body parts, his leg lock submission always looks painful, the Gu-Lock is always applied in a great fashion and the hidden gem behind Gulak's appeal is that his body always appears to be getting beaten up. Gulak wrestles like he's in a fight, everything has purpose, everything looks brutal and stiff, and that helps enhance his in-ring presentation a ton.
Tristan Wolfe: Drew Gulak has been amazing everywhere he's gone in 2013. He's owned Combat Zone Wrestling. He's put on clinics in Wrestling Is and Beyond Wrestling. He's so fun to watch technically and can go move for move with any submission wrestler in the business. I don't know if anyone really appreciated how good Gulak was until 2013 and he's only going to get better.
Rob Pandola: There were a lot of guys that broke out of the pack this year and really made a name for themselves on the indies, but none of them really did it the way that Gulak did it. In CZW, He went from a comedy feud with Greg Excellent to a heel-heel feud with Sozio and The Front to capturing the CZW World Heavyweight Championship from Masada (BTW, the best pure wrestling match I have ever seen Masada in. Considering his bum knee and the pain he must have been in, that's an accomplishment in-and-of itself). In all of these matches, he never changed his rugged, mat-based style, and slowly, he won the crowd over. Not just any crowd, THAT CROWD. One of the hardest crowd to get over with IN THE WORLD ALL CAPS. He would go on to have title defenses with Chris Dickinson, Chuck Taylor and Chris Hero, each match better than the one before it. Add to that being the #1 ranked wrestler in Beyond Wrestling, his showings in Wrestling Is Respect, and his epic, multi-fed pure-wrestling feud with Biff Busick/Frank O'Rourke. My favorite wrestler to watch live. And he did it all his way.
John Rosenberger: One of the best technical wrestlers I’ve ever seen, Drew Gulak works his ass off every match and that’s why he’s had so many star turns around the country. There are few names in wrestling today that will singlehandedly make me consider going to their show but Gulak is one of them. Hell, I’ve never been CZW’s biggest fan but his title reign has made me strongly mull the possibility of going to a show every single time.
|Brock Lesnar smash puny CM Punk!|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Highest Vote Received: 5th Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year's Placement: 48th Place
TH: If one were to take Lesnar's best return performances in WWE and consolidate them into one year, I might consider giving him the Regal treatment. However, the Triple H matches exist, and hoo boy, no matter how much Lesnar tried to save them with his raw animal fury, the layouts and Triple H's seeming lack of awareness brought the affairs down. But we'll always have that glorious, magnificent, trainwreck SummerSlam Attitude Era revival against CM Punk. I can't heap enough praise on that match, and so much of it had to do with both BRAWKKKK's ability to toss regular-sized humans around like rag dolls and his facial expressions showing pure incredulity at how Punk would always come back no matter how badly he'd get beaten down. A good face can mean so much to a wrestling match.
Samuel DiMascio: In the interest of being transparent the Beast Incarnate made my ballot off of one performance. That being said that performance was one of the most outstanding of any wrestler on the planet in 2014. A match between a mountain of a man against punk rocker/wolverine hybrid looking dude seems like a tough sell and yet Lesnar allows it to become something special. He made someone half his size seems like a completely legitimate threat while still looking like this monster. The match itself was pure chaos which Lesnar thrived in. I can only hope to see more of Brock Lesnar in the future because the only thing holding him back from being a potential number one is his lack of work.
Mike Pankowski: I will unashamedly admit that I love watching Brock fight. He brings a feeling to all of his matches that they could just careen out of control. And as long as the opponent is willing to go with him, the car crash that follows is highly entertaining. Maybe next year, the WWE will finally put on the dream match of Brock Lesnar vs. a grizzly bear.
Brandon Spears: Would've been near the top of my list if he had more than just three matches in all of 2013 and if two of them weren't with Triple H. (No offense to Hunter.) At the end of the day, I'm sure Lesnar is a consummate professional, but it says a lot that nearly everyone truly believes he wants to shoot murder whoever he's in the ring with.
The last group post is TOMORROW!