|Missed u, Jakob|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Jakob Hammermeier - I'll admit that I wondered aloud on Twitter a few times during the pre-King of Trios year where, oh where Herr Hammermeier went. Who knew he was hiding under a cubic mask the whole time. In kayfabe, I am staunchly anti-Flood and will always cheer for Chikara over the invading group, but if I was there on night one to see Hammermeier unmask, I might have lost my mind like it was Eddie Kingston rejecting the group and saving Chikara once again on night three.
Nikki Bella - It's astounding how much of a difference between two twins in wrestling can be present. The Usos are pretty similar in talent. Neither Jackson can be considered vastly superior in the Young Bucks. But Nikki Bella's advancement came so much further in 2014 that I can't help but admire how good she got in the ring and on promos.
Alpha Female - I actually got to see her wrestle for the first time on American soil at a secret show, and she was not only super scary and totally a spectacle to watch in the ring, but she broke a piece of DJ Hyde's wall, which is always good in my book.
Dubstep Cowboys (Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake) - I feel bad for the in-limbo tag teams of NXT (not quite jobbers, but not quite contenders), so I give them team names so that at least I can show their importance to the show, even if it's only in my personal headcanon. Tye Dillinger and Jason Jordan, for example, are the Tye Fighters, which is a one-sided nickname to be honest, but hey, if I can work Star Wars into my wrestling, I'm going to do it. Anyway, the Dubstep Cowboys (named for their theme song and because Blake is a cowboy) actually show more than a flash of competence whenever they're sent in to make The Ascension or whoever look good. Once the Ascension and the Lucha Dragons get promoted, I hope these guys get a further look.
Ryback - I know it's cool to hate on The Big Guy, especially in light of CM Punk's accusations that he worked stiff on purpose and tried to injure him. the puerile Twitter response didn't help either, but then again, when has Ryback ever been known to use Twitter sincerely? My take is that it's an issue between those two guys, and honestly, Ryback still entertains me a lot.
Mike Bennett - The 180 I've done on Bennett has been astounding. Sometimes, he rubs me the wrong way with his tweets, but the guy gets it in the ring and is almost always a good, dastardly presence on any card he's on, especially away from Ring of Honor.
Matt Tremont - No, I don't just dig Tremont because he worked at the same Dollar Tree that I did back in Northeast Philadelphia. He actually seems like he's having fun out there, even though that fun includes doing crazy hardcore shit that I'm not sure any sane person would want to do. However, he's branching out as well, thanks to Beyond Wrestling, and I'm super happy for him.
Crazy Mary Dobson - I've probably seen her more on WWE programming as a Rosebud or as Miz's stylist more than on the indies this year, but take this as a reminder that the wrestlers that are pointed out to you in these throwaway roles many times can bring you more enjoyment than your average three-hour slog on Monday night in their natural habitats. Dobson is a key example of this.
Rusev and Lana - It took awhile for this act to grow on me when they were formally introduced, mainly because I don't like Vladimir Putin and didn't want him blotting my entertainment, even if he was used as a means for cheap heat. However, Rusev has slowly developed into one of the elite workers on the WWE main roster, and Lana has evolved her promo game with time. I hope that when the eventual John Cena showdown happens that Rusev isn't left mangled like he was put through a grain thresher.
EYFBO - On an independent tag team scene that is bonkers to begin with, these guys had to compete against a stiff curve, especially in Beyond Wrestling where the Young Bucks and Hooligans regularly compete. However, Mike Draztik and the Funky Monkey stand out and look to enhance the tag scene, not just blend in.
Alberto del Rio - I got bored by him in WWE towards the end of his run, but honestly, that was clearly a function of WWE not knowing what the company had in him more than anything. He had no variety of opponents in any given month, like, I'm talking Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston levels of repetition. I'm glad he's going to ROH and the indie scene at large. Maybe those companies will get something out of him.
Timothy Thatcher - He blew up in 2014, thanks to Gabe Sapolsky giving him a shot even after the initial resistance to his East Coast appearances. The dude can totally go on the mat. Hopefully, he can help usher in an era where mat exchanges and grappling mean something so that the dangerous bumps can be reined in.
Charlotte - She must have taken a Mario mushroom for talent overnight, because she went from clunky, awkward tagalong to this finished piece of clay that could very well anchor the NXT women's division until she inevitably gets called up. She could also totally play Calhoun in a live-action version of Wreck-It Ralph.
Danny Cannon - Oh man, when I saw him tear it up on those Beyond secret shows, I got shivers up my spine. This kid was still raw, but he brought so much energy into the ring. Like, he climbed up onto a wall molding to do a leaping high spot. If a guy can make a dive spot seem fresh and cool on an indie scene where nearly every dive seemingly has been done to death, he's special. Sucks that he seems to have retired before his career even got started, but hopefully, the wrestling bug will bite him again.
Batista - Yeah, I was one of the jabronis pissed off online and empathizing with the Rumble crowd that just saw him win, but that was more the fault of booking than anything. I wanted to see Batista come back, and I would venture to bet that most of the people pissed off at him winning the Rumble over a Daniel Bryan who wasn't even in the match were too. But the Batista everyone seemingly grew to love was the spotlight-hogging douchebag who wasn't afraid to ham it up in the face of John Cena's corny-ass Boy Scout routine. He quickly re-embraced that role after the win, and his comeback became a moderate success, even if again, it was too short. Then again, he's part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Drax the Destroyer now (a role he was born to play), so it's not like he's too far away...
And the Rest... Adam Cole, Adam Page, Adam Pearce, Adam Thornstowe, Adrian Neville, Alex Shelley, Alexa Bliss, Alicia Fox, Amber O'Neal, American Eagle, Andrew Everett, Angelus Layne, Angie Skye, Anthony Nese, Anthony Stone, AR Fox, Arik Cannon, Arik Royal, The Ascension, Bad Influence, Bad News Barrett, Barbi Hayden, Baron Corbin, the Batiri, B-Boy, Becky Lynch, Biff Busick, Big Show, Blind Rage, The Bloc Party, Bobby Roode, Bolt Brady, Brad Maddox, Bravado Bros., The Bro Manz, Bret Hart, Brian Cage, Brian Kendrick, Brodus Clay, Brooke Tessmacher, Byron Saxton, Caprice Coleman, Carmella, Cheerleader Melissa, Cherry Bomb, Cherry Ramone, Chris Dickinson, Chris Hero, Chris Masters, Chris Sabin, Christian, Christina von Eerie, Chuck Taylor, Colin Delaney, Colony: X-treme Force, Corey Hollis, Courtney Rush, Curt Hawkins, Curtis Axel, Darin Corbin, Delilah Doom, Delirious, Devastation Corporation, Devin Taylor, DJ Z, Dolph Ziggler, Doug Williams, Drew Gulak, Drew McIntyre, Emma, Eric Corvis, Eric Young, Erick Rowan, Ethan Carter III, Evie, Finn Bálor, Fire Ant, Francis Kipland Stevens, Franco D'Angelo, Great Depression, Hallowicked, Hania the Howling Huntress, Hardy Boys, Hideo Itami, Hikaru Shida, Hulk Hogan, Icarus, Ivelisse Velez, J and J Security, Jake Dirden, Jason Albert, Jay Freddie, Jenny Rose, Jessica James, Jewells Malone, Jigsaw, Jimmy Jacobs, Jinder Mahal, Jojo Bravo, Jon Davis, Jonathan Gresham, Jordan Jensen, Juan Francisco de Coronado, the Juicy Product, Jushin Liger, Justin Gabriel, Kaori Yoneyama, Kenny King, Kenny Omega, Kimber Lee, Knight Eye for the Pirate Guy, Knux, Latvian Proud Oak, Leah von Dutch, Lei'D Tapa, Leon, Leva Bates, Lince Dorado, Lithuanian Snow Troll, Louis Lyndon, LuFisto, Madison Rayne, Magnus, Marcus Louis, Mark Angelosetti, Marti Belle, Mat Fitchett, Matt Taven, Mercedes Martinez, Mia Yim, Mike Dell, Mike Posey, Miss Natural, the Miz, Naomi, Neveah, Nøkken, ODB, Oleg the Usurper, Orange Cassidy, Paige, Paige Turner, Petey Williams, Pinkie Sanchez, Randy Orton, Ray, Ray Rowe, RD Evans, Rebel, Renee Young, Rey Mysterio, Rhia O'Reilly, Ric Flair, Ricardo Rodriguez, Rich Brennan, Rich Swann, Ricky Starks, Ricochet, RockNES Monsters, Rockstar Spud, Rycklon, Sam Shaw, Samoa Joe, Sanada, Santana Garrett, Santino Marella, Saraya Knight, Sassy Stephie, Scarlett Bordeaux, Scot Summers, Scott Dawson, Seth Rollins, Shane Strickland, Shanna, Sheamus, Shynron, Sin Cara, Sonjay Dutt, Sozio, Steve Corino, Su Yung, Summer Rae, Supercop Dick Justice, Swamp Monster, Sylvester LeFort, Tadarius Thomas, Tadasuke, Taeler Hendrix, Takaaki Watanabe, Tamina Snuka, ThunderKitty, Tim Donst, Titus O'Neil, Tom Phillips, Tomasso Ciampa, Tommy Dreamer, Tomoka Nakagawa, Trent?, Trevor Lee, Truth Martini, Tursas, The Tye Fighters, Tyler Breeze, Uhaa Nation, The Undertaker, the Usos, Vanessa Kraven, Veda Scott, Vordell Walker, Will Ferrara, Worker Ant, Xavier Woods, Yoshi Tatsu, Yumi Ohka, Zack Ryder
The final category is "My Very Favorites." Here are the creme de la creme of wrestlers, the guys who are awesome, more than worthy of praise. These are my favorite wrestlers.
Cesaro - I want to strangle Vince McMahon. He doesn't "get" Cesaro, and attributes it to him being "Swiss," when he did everything he possibly could to grab the bullshit brass rings that McMahon talks about all the fucking time. Every match he's in is better for his inclusion. He hossed his way to earning that Andre battle royale win instead of just being handed it like a dude like Heidenreich or whatever other McMahon steroid special would have done in the past. His reward was being shit on by Paul Heyman and sent into oblivion. Still, for as "bad" as year as he had booking-wise, he was still in a bunch of high-profile matches and shone in them. Someone sees what I see, what nearly every wrestling fan who loves Cesaro sees in WWE, and hopefully that person will take over sooner rather than later. I can't take this yo-yoing. Even if he's just on TV every week putting dudes over in long matches, I'll cop to it.
Stephanie McMahon - I don't know how her management style is in real life. If the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, then I can't really say good things about her, but this isn't about real life. The Stephanie McMahon co-host of the Authority character was perhaps the most brilliant evil boss character since her father, and yes, I am aware and still love Big Johnny's run a couple of years ago. She's not overbearingly bombastic in her cunning deviltry, but she's passive-aggressive. Sarcastic. She's your nagging mother, only instead of wanting you to eat your green beans, she wants you to step aside and think it was your idea to do so so she can mold the wrestling company she owns in a far less aesthetically-pleasing to the gen-pop way. The Authority had to go away, sure, but I miss her dancing to John Cena's theme song and sarcastically explaining why doing a guy like Daniel Bryan dirty is best for business, especially in this era of WWE where the company insists that an authority figure is needed but doesn't have a strong one put in place.
Mickie Knuckles - The worst thing about Drew Cordeiro's sale of WSU to DJ Hyde is that Hyde is free to run bullshit angles that tease his talent blowing him if they lose. The SECOND worst thing was the discontinuation of the secret shows Cordeiro used to put on that heavily featured Mickie Knuckles. Sure, the other wrestlers did well during them. I always enjoyed seeing how hard Athena was going to go against whatever opponent or where LuFisto or Kimber Lee were going to fall on the card, but Knuckles seemed to be the wrestler who embraced the intimate environment the best. But then she'd get to the big arenas for the main shows and she'd still be the best wrestler there. I'm not sure if she's sane after seeing her and Jewells Malone staple things to each other or put each other through rigid dollhouses, but for damn sure, she knew how to explore the studio space, if that studio had booby traps, a cardboard cutout of Hyde, and all kinds of PLUNDAH for use in the milieu of bodily harm.
Stardust - He outweirded his brother in 2014, which yeah, isn't that big of a deal. Goldust is more known for being an in-ring Benjamin Button than being the "Bizarre One" anymore. But I'd argue that Stardust is weirder than Goldust was in 1996, although it might not seem that way because, once again, WWE has no idea on how to provide the proper stage for its characters. It might seem controversial to say that Stardust is better in the ring than he was as Cody Rhodes. I'm not convinced of it technically or mechanically, but I think his moveset and mannerisms feel more natural to the character now, even if he was "better" without the facepaint. Either way, I'm glad that he went the weirder route instead of just turning on Goldust (or having Goldust turn on him).
Sasha Banks - Not only is she the best wrestler not named Sami Zayn in NXT, she's legitimately a smarky, asshole wrestling fan who remembers her roots, supports the indies, nerds out in turn, and supports her fans when they try to meme her, even if that includes her floating in space on a donut. When she succeeds, it feels like every dork-ass wrestling fan succeeds too. I mean, she still has a goddamn Tumblr for crying out loud. If that doesn't scream "ONE OF US! ONE OF US!", then nothing does.
Estonian Thunder Frog - I admit that I shed a single tear when I learned that the T-Frog had suffered the cruel fate of Deucalion's Chokebreaker into "death." He'd become one of my favorite guys, if not my favorite wrestler in Chikara over the short time he was active. He had become Chikara's mascot, its avatar. He was a big, affable, friendly mask who took time out to greet kids and who also was really good between the ropes as well. I wonder if this new Thunder Frog that was reborn and revealed at the end of the Tomorrow Never Dies Internet pay-per-view broadcast is going to be played by the same guy. I really hope so.
The Vaudevillains - Aiden English and Simon Gotch have a gimmick that is too beautiful to live outside the precious, nurturing environment of NXT. This truth is something any fan of the 'Villains has to accept before making statements like "they need to be promoted" or "they're future WWE Tag Champions." You know what Vince McMahon is going to do to them when they get to the main roster? Job to Los Matadores and have comedy segments where El Torito (another wrestler who is too beautiful to exist on the main roster but does anyway) gores them in the butt while JBL makes a veiled reference to anal sex. That reason is why I sip up every instance of them on my Roku on Thursdays like Kermit the Frog meme-drinking his tea while nothing is his business. They are a small-stage gimmick in current WWE, and that's okay. If Triple H's plans are to make NXT one part alternative wrestling show as well as one part feeder promotion to the main WWE roster, then the 'Villains can exist in all their glory for as long as everyone wants them to.
Brock Lesnar - Say what you want about his manager and advocate (and believe me, I did), but even when he was slogging around with the Big Show or having a clunky match with Undertaker at Mania, Lesnar was still a wonderful thing to have on WWE television. WWE may have wanted its fans to believe that Lesnar was this conquering leviathan who represented MMA legitimacy, but played out with the background noise on mute, Lesnar was just this big dumb animal, a hayseed from the upper Midwest who was too dull to realize that tact or couth were things that a pro athlete should have. The best part was that when he went into the ring, he represented that avatar. He spammed moves and tried to hit his strong grapples from start. In a word, he was the video game playing public controlling a wrestler in the ring, and it totally worked, especially when he mushed John Cena into a fine paste at SummerSlam and took the WWE World Heavyweight Championship into That Good Night. Lesnar will more than likely say goodbye to pro wrestling for good at Mania XXXI, but I'm glad his comeback was this memorable.
"Smooth Sailing" Ashley Remington - From the instant that Dalton Castle put on the captain's hat and stepped out from the back with the two boating beauties on his arm, I fell in love. Remington has been a signpost of sorts in Chikara, one that still reminded the crowd that, hey, even though this Flood story has dealt with death and betrayal and serious poop, someone still is on the roster that exists to be blithe and to give fruit baskets to his opponents after he's beaten them. So many people rabble against Chikara taking known or semi-known guys and putting them in masks or different gimmicks, and at times, their criticisms are valid. But in many cases, that thought process produces guys like Remington, who are better than the personae that they left behind when working for Chikara.
Daniel Bryan - I know I kicked off the first post by saying that Bryan's misogynistic promos made me get rid of the Valhalla level, but that's not to say that I hated Bryan for the content. At this point, one has to expect that WWE is going to train its top guys to be gross in some capacity; it's just a matter of what else the performer brings to the table. Bryan, up to May, was still the best wrestler in WWE by far, even if he was only being booked in pay-per-view mains and didn't get the stage he got in 2013. And yeah, the prospect of a wrestling industry with him on the sidelines is depressing as fuck. He wasn't the only guy who made WWE pop, but everyone who did was taken away in some respect. Randy Orton was de-emphasized. The Shield was broken up and became less interesting as three parts that made up the sum. The Wyatt Family was completely nerfed. The Usos turned into mini-Cena douchebags, and the Rhodes Bros. were warped and twisted so much that they weren't nearly as interesting as they were as guerrilla babyfaces. But at least the rest of those guys are still around. Bryan being gone sucks. But if he can't wrestle anymore, while the crater in my heart will be gaping and smoky, I hope he at least gets to live a good, full life. I just miss him on my TV, that's all.
Bryce Remsburg - I will always cape for Bryce. Always.
And the Rest... ACH, Allysin Kay, Athena, Bayley, Big Cass, Big E, Bo Dallas, Bobby Fish, Bray Wyatt, Canadian Ninjas, Cedric Alexander, Chris Trew, Damien Sandow, Darren Young, Dasher Hatfield, Dean Ambrose, Eddie Kingston, Enzo Amore, Forever Hooligans, Fred Yehi, Frightmare, Goldust, Heidi Lovelace, The Hooligans, Jervis Cottonbelly, Jessicka Havok, Kaitlyn, Kalisto, Kana, Keith Lee, Kellie Skater, Kevin Owens, Kyle Matthews, Layla, Los Ice Creams, Luke Harper, Madison Eagles, Marion Fontaine, Mark Andrews, Mark Henry, Matt Sydal, Matthew Palmer, Mayumi Ozaki, The Osirian Portal, Paul London, Pete Dunne, Sami Zayn, Silver Ant, Steve Austin, The Submission Squad, Team Tremendous, UltraMantis Black, Vickie Guerrero, William Regal, Willie Mack, The World's Cutest Tag Team, Young Bucks