|Whether as Ricochet or Prince Puma, he tore it up in 2014|
Photo Credit: El Rey Network.com
20. Ricochet/Prince Puma
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Julio del Aguila, Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: 41st Place
TH: I missed a lot of Ricochet's 2014, but I caught enough of it to know that he could very well be deemed the best wrestler in the world without hesitation. He's an acrobatic freak of nature with impeccable timing. I will make it my mission to watch much more of him, whether on El Rey Network, on PWG DVDs, or via WWN Live in 2015.
Dave Kincannon: The end of 2014 saw a pretty big change in the landscape of televised wrestling. Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network debuted a new American based Lucha Libre promotion that combined some of the greatest stars from Mexico’s AAA with some of the best independent wrestlers in America. One of those stars was Prince Puma, a newcomer, it would seem. Of course, most people already knew that Prince Puma was independent wrestling star, Ricochet wearing a mask for the first time since his stint in Chikara as Helios. In addition to his Lucha Underground duties, Ricochet spent a good portion of the year wowing on the independent scene as he has done over the past few years. He won the 2014 Battle of Los Angeles, spent a good portion of the year as Evolve’s Open the Freedom Gate Champion and teamed a few times with Rich Swann to form the Inner City Machine Guns. I look forward to even bigger and better things from Ricochet in 2015.
Julio del Aguila: He's hands down the best American wrestler today. At every promotion he wrestled in this year he put on great matches, the runaway star of Lucha Underground.
Joshua Browns: BOLA 2014 winner, and the inaugural Lucha Underground champion (does that count? It aired in January but was taped in October last year) - that's a pretty got-damned good year. The best high-flyer in the world right now, and smooth as glass in the ring. I expect him to be a huge star sooner rather than later.
Brandon Spears: Ricochet's in-ring abilities perfectly encapsulate the fast-paced styles of most of the companies he works for, specifically PWG and Lucha Underground. But what makes Ricochet (and now Prince Puma) *great* is that he never comes across like a cartoon. To me, there wasn't a better high-flyer in wrestling in 2014.
Ryan Foster: In a year in which he enjoyed success after success, Ricochet may have been the world’s most decorated cruiserweight even before becoming the face of an entirely new promotion as Prince Puma. His wrestling style is breathtaking, a finely honed mixture of the best aspects of US indie, Japanese junior heavyweight, and lucha libre styles. His abilities made him the ideal top star in the fledgling Lucha Underground promotion, and his matches there have become as much-watch as anything in wrestling.
Brandon Kyla: Ricochet had such a crazy good year it's almost impossible to believe he's the guy I watched get his ass routinely kicked by Chuck Taylor eight years ago. Ricochet is now a world traveled bad ass, a literal KING, but is also the prince and one of the anchors of the hottest wrestling show on TV.
Brad Canze: There was a time still in 2014 where I would look at Ricochet and sound like Sex Ferguson, "Ricochet? You mean the kid with all the flips and the jumps and the spots?" But after watching enough of him, both under his Ricochet name and his Aztec Totem name of Prince Puma, he won me over not just as a guy who can do cool flips, but as a top-level wrestler who can tell stories and make you invest in what he's doing. Wherever Ricochet wrestles in the next few years is going to be a damn sight better for it.
Martin Bentley: Though many of his vast array of accomplishments occurred overseas, Ricochet pulled off three very big feats within North America in 2014 - the first saw him claim the Dragon Gate USA Open the Freedom Gate Championship in an incredible bout with Johnny Gargano over WrestleMania weekend in New Orleans. His run over the WWN Universe in particular was so stellar that we can't even count the loss of his title, as that happened in China. The second was his victory in the Battle of Los Angeles, overcoming one of the most talented international fields on record to reign supreme in Reseda.
The third took place in a brand new place, under a different identity, as Prince Puma emerged in Lucha Underground. Ricochet's alter-ego set out his stall from the very beginning, taking part in a phenomenal main event on the very first show against Johnny Mundo, exposing him to a brand new audience... even if they'll be surprised once they discover his other work without the mask.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Steve Hummer)
Last Year's Placement: 11th Place
TH: Orton continued his steady climb into WWE's elite after a near decade of squandered promise, building on his stellar 2013 in singles matches and multi-person matches. He reminds me of Drew Brees, the hot prospect who was touted heavily but didn't totally get it until later in his career. He finished run as Champion well enough, and then was an indispensable part of the big Evolution/Shield trios matches that carried pay-per-view during the spring. Even as his year tailed off, he still worked hard and put in strong performances.
|Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein|
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Bill Hanstock)
Last Year's Placement: 17th Place
TH: I watched the least amount of Steen footage last year than I had in any other year since I started following the indies, but he's so good that the little I saw of him in PWG left an imprint. He's such a special worker. His transformation into Kevin Owens, despite only having two matches in 2014, was good enough to supplement his year.
Dave Kincannon: Kevin Steen’s 2014 served as his farewell tour to the American independent scene. I believe that he worked for almost every major independent wrestling promotion in the USA and Canada (the two that I think are missing are Chikara and Inspire Pro). He had fantastic matches all over the place, from Reseda to Providence; from New Orleans to Toronto, and a lot of stops in between. He finished out his ROH career with great matches against the likes of Tommaso Ciampa, Adam Cole, and probably my favorite ROH match of the year against Shinsuke Nakamura. I hope Steen is doing well helping El Generico with those orphans in Mexico.
Julio del Aguila: Great to see him thrive in NXT. Had a great run to finish at ROH (THAT NAKAMURA MATCH) he knows how to draw your attention in a good way.
Joshua Browns: The only thing keeping him from being higher on the list is the long break he took to get ready for his NXT debut in December, and the fact that I didn't get to see a lot of his stuff from earlier in the year. He's a unique and unconventional talent in the ring, projects his character into his ring work better than almost anybody else, connects with an audience on a near-Stone Cold level. Sky's the limit.
Brandon Spears: Before proving all his doubters wrong as Kevin Owens in NXT, Kevin Steen was proudly waving that "king of the indies flag" in damn near every promotion in North America it seemed like. I have a big affection for big guy athleticism and Steen has that in spades. Also: there isn't a better trash talker in the game between the bells.
Nick Ahlhelm From an awesome cross-promotional match against Shinsuke Nakamura to a massive and brutal NXT debut, the man now known as Kevin Owens continues to be a dominant force in wrestling. With nothing but a huge upside for him in the next few years and the backing of Triple H, Owens could very well end up the next major WWE star, even if he doesn’t have the perfect body-builder’s look.
Brad Canze: Kevin, regardless of surname, is a wrestler with a special gift. I think it was Stroud who said so in a column after his NXT debut, but he's not the guy who is the number-one-with-a-bullet guy in any category, as far as athleticism, mat wrestling, brawling, et cetera. But he is the guy who makes you pay attention, and care, and care about him and what he is doing. He is an engaging presence, and that is the thing, more than anything else, that makes him special. When Hulk Goddamn Hogan said "Kevin Owens makes me believe again," I think he meant that literally. You watch this guy, and you believe every single thing he does in that ring. That's not something you can really teach, I don't think.
|Photo Credit: Devin Chen|
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Bob Godfrey, Joey Splashwater, Chris McDonald)
Last Year's Placement: 18th Place
16. Matt Jackson
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Bob Godfrey, Chris McDonald)
Last Year's Placement: 19th Place
TH: The Young Bucks are the best tag team in the world today. They're indistinguishable from each other, much like the Usos, but when they don't need to be. As one well-oiled unit, they were able to continue being a tour de force as a tag team, putting in great work in any promotion in which they stepped foot. Even though a chunk of their year was spent out of the sphere of eligibility in New Japan, they still did enough to cement their spot in my top 20. The Bucks are tremendous, and their 2014 was another year in which they ruled the world.
Joshua Browns: You can hate on the Bucks all you want, I love these guys. Yeah, they spam the superkicks. Other than that, they're a pretty perfect tag team.
Joey Splashwater: The Young Bucks were arguably the best thing in American wrestling last year to an extent that we could eliminate their Japanese body of work and I can still rank them in the top 3. At ROH, they had three tremendous matches vs. reDRagon, including my Match of the Year at War of the Worlds. At PWG, they carried the company with trios matches teaming with Kevin Steen as well as made Joey Ryan and Candice LeRae's tag team officially a top act via their matches. They had great matches with the Hardys in HOH, TLC matches in FWE, and stole the show in too many indies to name.
Nick Ahlhelm: I know we’re supposed to cover these separately, but there isn’t really any separation of the Young Bucks. They are right next to each other on this list while still being in the top twenty for a reason—no tag team in America or the world come close to the accomplishments of Nick and Matt Jackson. The two brothers from California are great faces and amazing heels. They embraced their independence in a huge way in 2014, working in major spots for New Japan, PWG, ROH and numerous indies across the country. They even reportedly turned down lowball offers from both WWE and Lucha Underground. The Young Bucks seem more than happy where they are as they continue to remind everyone just how awesome tag wrestling can be.
Mike Pankowski: I find it impossible to separate Matt and Nick Jackson. Not just because they are always teaming, but because they are both that damn good in the ring. They play their characters to perfection in the ring. They pull of some ridiculous moves in the ring. And while they sure do spam those superkicks, they’re great superkicks. Maybe next year they’ll form a Composite Young Buck that will be easier to rank in the 2015 TWB 100.
Chris McDonald: It’s a superkick party and everybody is invited! The Young Bucks is the reason why I love wrestling. They are athletically gifted, incredible showmen, and have just the right about amount of ridiculousness to keep it fun. Professional Wrestling after all, is incredibly ridiculous. They dress like the Rockers from the 80s, still tell their opponents to “suck it”, and have brought back the “Too Sweet” that the lawyers in Titan Towers are threatening copyrights & lawsuits. Not bad for a little obnoxious indie tag team. But aside from the over-the-top personas they have created from themselves, they put on incredible matches. They make 450 splashes look easy. Their timing on the double superkicks and moves such as the ridiculously named Meltzer Driver in unparalleled. Watching a Young Bucks match you alternate from picking your jaw up off the floor, chanting along with the crowd, or grinning from ear to ear like a dope. I first became a fan when I saw their bit of repeatedly superkicking the PWG ring announcer. Being a wrestling fan since the early 90s, there’s not much that I haven’t seen before. That was something that I’ve never seen before. I loved it so much I was sharing the video with friends of mine who weren’t even wrestling fans. I’ve been singing The Young Bucks praises ever since. The best tag team on planet Earth? That’s just too sweet.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Joe Drilling)
Last Year's Placement: 12th Place
TH: Wyatt was the ultimate hit-or-miss wrestler, but he held his own in trios matches, or against Daniel Bryan or Dean Ambrose in singles. His stiffness was an asset that combined well with his size for visual HOSSINESS.
Joshua Browns: Man, he started out SO hot in 2014, and it was all pretty much downhill after his match with Cena at WrestleMania. I feel like I should be saving that sentence as auto text for the Rusev entry in next year's ballot. But I'm still a big fan of Bray's work in the ring. Big guys with an extra gear are pretty boss.
Nick Ahlhelm: Bray Wyatt should have had a better 2014 than he did. But embroiled in high-level feuds with Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose never really cemented him as a future main eventer quite as it should. He’s a solid in-ring worker (though far behind several of his WWE peers) but he’s almost became theatrical to the point of having no purpose. Still, he should have a main event run in his future where hopefully he can show himself to be more than a few creepy promos.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 4th Place (Brandon Rohwer)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked
TH: I wasn't as high on Kidd as some, but he found a good niche in NXT. He was an essential part in maybe the best WWE-branded fatal four way match ever, which counts for something.
James Girouard: As great as Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville are in NXT, I think the MVP of that promotion in 2014 was Tyson Kidd. Not only did he resurrect his career by proving he could carry a main event program on the mic, his in-ring work was spot-on the entire year.
Joshua Browns: maybe the best pure technician in wrestling right now. He's developed more of a true character outside of the ring, but he still hasn't figured out how to project his character into his ring work. Everything seems dispassionate and sterile. Still, if I needed a guy to make somebody look really good for just one match, I'm probably calling Tyson Kidd.
Joey O: FACT: Overcoming a lengthy rehab from injury, combined with a terribly unflattering portrayal by Total Divas, Tyson Kidd regained his form and reputation as one of the most underrated wrestlers on the WWE roster. FACT: Kidd rebuilt his career having tremendous matches with the main eventers of NXT, challenging for the title and creating a personality and real character for the first time in his career. FACT: Kidd parlayed his NXT run into a successful return to the main roster and is currently one half of the tag team champs. FACT: Cat-themed wrestling attire is amazing.
Brandon Bosh: Honest question: was Tyson Kidd always this good?
Like, imagine hearing “Tyson Kidd in action next!” from Scott Stanford or whoever on Superstars in 2011. How could you possibly give a fraction of a fuck? The man’s talent was irrelevant by design; “Tyson Kidd” barely existed, so his matches were fated to make a faint impression. If WWE had signed Prince Devitt, only to christen him Harry Bird and stick him in five-minute matches against Matador Diego on Main Event, he probably wouldn’t be appearing on any countdown lists. But I digress. A few years ago, Tyson Kidd matches were the exact thing Vince McMahon purports to loathe: wrestling for wrestling’s sake. Kidd’s 2014 output is another matter entirely.
To conclude our thought experiment: imagine hearing “Tyson Kidd in action next” from Rich Brennan on NXT in 2014. Your mind starts racing with possibilities. Will Kidd reprise his bitter rivalry with Adrian Neville? Will he take on one of NXT’s nascent stars, Finn Balor or Hideo Itami, in an attempt to humble the privileged indie darlings? Or will he get the opportunity to show his technical chops against one of NXT’s expendable jobbers? Maybe Natalya will tag along and get the crowd riled up. Maybe he’ll have amazingly dorky new gear with a cat motif. The point is, you’ll be eager to see Tyson Kidd, which means you’ll be paying attention when he puts on a wrestling clinic with an array of breathtaking dives and a handful of Stu Hart’s finest holds. This is just one example – and maybe the single finest example in 2014 – of a fundamental wrestling truth: talent without character is basically useless. Fact.
Nick Ahlhelm: At this time last year, rumors were floating that Tyson Kidd would be repackaged as a masked wrestler because his brand was too damaged. But a mix of Total Divas and a series of amazing matches in NXT have revitalized the man fans have dubbed “Nattie’s husband” in chants. Though he never won the NXT title, he remained in contention for much of the year and always brought some amazing moves to every contest. He slowly worked his way back to the main roster as well near the end of the year, and while he didn’t have any major feuds there in 2014, he’s since earned a tag championship alongside Cesaro. Kidd may never be a WWE main eventer, but he’s proven time and again he’s one of the best all around wrestlers on the roster.
Brad Canze: Tyson Kidd probably isn't the "most improved" of 2014 from an in-ring standpoint. The technique and mechanics have been there for years. But he is definitely the guy who went from being a dude I cared about very little to a dude I cared about a whole hell of a lot, and his run in NXT had a lot to do with it. The technical proficiency was imbued with an arrogance, and a swagger that could not be denied. He's the best. FACT. He's going to have me sitting there with my eyes glued to the screen for every match to watch every little idiosyncrasy. FACT. If only he brought back that weird little mustache-on-top-of-his-head haircut he rocked for a while he would have been my number one with a bullet.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (John Rosenberger)
Last Year's Placement: 7th Place
TH: Cena took a step back in 2014, but he usually operates at such a high level that his "below average" year is a ceiling for others. It's hard to discount his performances early in the year against opponents like Damien Sandow, Cesaro, and in the Elimination Chamber. He's still one of WWE's truest measuring sticks in the squared circle, no matter how hokey his character gets.
James Girouard: Yes, John Cena is awkward and clumsy in the ring. His matches are wickedly overbooked and he's made to look like a superman beyond all bounds of reason. But at the end of the year, when you start thinking of the best matches in 2015, guess what? Cena's in a good chunk of them. And you can argue that he's getting carried by better workers or that the booking makes him look stronger than he is, but at the end of the day the sheer output of great matches from Cena makes him an easy top-three choice for me.
Rene Sanchez: John Cena does not have to do what he does in the ring. By all means, Cena can just rest on his laurels and phone in every match that he has, but instead Cena takes a crazy amount of German Suplexes in an elongated squash match, or he wrestles in cages, or he goes through tables. Cena always steps up his game when the opposition calls for it and that should be commended. There is a lot that can be said to throw shade at Cena, but his effort in the ring can never be questioned. He is an extremely good in ring performer.
Joshua Browns: I'm not a huge fan, but there aren't a lot of guys in wrestling you can count on more to deliver a good match in a big situation. There also isn't another legitimate top guy, maybe ever, in wrestling who would have put another guy over the way Cena put Lesnar over last August.
Joey Splashwater: Let's stop pretending John Cena isn't a great pro wrestler. I enjoy his in ring work more than any other facet of him despite the popular criticism to be "he works hard and is a nice guy but he's not that good and I'm tired of him." I actually think he comes off as an ass kissing goof but the man has great matches and I'm definitely not tired of them.
Cena once again gave many new wrestlers their best WWE matches including Cesaro, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. The guy hits home runs and is consistent as can be. John Cena is the standard and you find out who can truly hang in WWE by seeing who takes advantage of being in a match with him.
Bill DiFilippo: Sure, John Cena is lame as all hell, but when he puts on his workin’ jorts, he’s still capable of having great matches with most people.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Brandon Stroud, John Rosenberger, Bill Hanstock, Dan Vecellio)
Last Year's Placement: 26th Place
Rene Sanchez: I do not like workers who take a ton of time between moves in the ring. I find it laborious to watch and sometimes I can even mistake the work as lazy. Brock Lesnar is the exception to this for me because those moves that he performs every-so-often are incredible feats that make people jump out of their seats. Every Lesnar move seems to require a few moments afterward for everyone to process what in the hell just happened. There is no one that can throw people better than Lesnar can right now and sometimes that is enough when considering someone’s in ring performance.
Joshua Browns: He's really only here on the back of two matches (the Mania match with Taker really hurts his case, but I'm choosing to ignore it because Taker got hurt so early in the match). That said, Lesnar brings a level of believability and credibility in the ring that nobody else can. I could easily put him in the top 10 based on his SummerSlam match with Cena alone.
Brandon Spears: Realistically, Brock Lesnar shouldn't make anybody's list based off the criteria. He had four total matches and only one of them could be classified higher than "average." But what a match. SummerSlam's main event was unlike anything I have seen in a WWE ring in some time, with Lesnar's complete and utter decimation of John Cena something I didn't think was possible. And this was in the same calendar year where The Undertaker's streak came to an end, also by Lesnar. After being back in WWE for over two years, 2014 finally showed us just how much different Lesnar is than the rest of the main roster. The atmosphere his in ring work brings simply cannot be denied.
Ryan Foster: I know this may shock many, but in addition to being a pro wrestling fan, I once dabbled a bit in Dungeons and Dragons. In the D-and-D world, there is a monster called a Tarrasque, which is the most horrifying, un-killable monster that can be encountered. The story is that the Tarrasque sleeps for years, then occasionally awakens to kill, eat, and basically terrorize everyone in its path until it returns to its slumber. Brock Lesnar both behaves and performs in this exact manner. He is content to wait on the sidelines until he decides there is something he wants, be it a title, vengeance, or an unconquerable streak. Then he returns, gets what he wants, destroys everyone he encounters, and eventually returns to hibernation. There’s nothing else like him in wrestling and it’s so, so good. Bizarre that WWE could have gotten so much wrong in 2014 and one thing so, so right.
Joey O: Brock obviously only had a handful of matches in 2014 (and his one match so far in 2015 was probably better than all of them) but I voted him this high almost entirely based on that Summerslam massacre of John Cena. I'm not a "Cena Sucks!" guy, it was just such an unstoppable, unforgettable performance...an onslaught of offense you'd never expect to see and probably never will again. SUPLEX REPEAT
Nick Ahlhelm: I think Lesnar is way too low on this list personally. He may have only spent about an hour in the ring in 2014, but Lesnar did nothing but shine in his WWE 2014 run. Everyone of his matches showed him as a dominant force and an unrelenting foe. His toughness showed as he ended the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak and absolutely destroyed John Cena in a Summerslam main event that could only be called a squash. He had a top 10 year without a doubt in my opinion and I personally ranked him as the second best wrestler in the United States. And with an epic Royal Rumble match already behind him, 2015 should continue to showcase his talents well if he chooses to stay with WWE.
Bill DiFilippo: I put Brock Lesnar in my top-10 because if I didn’t he would rip out my liver and eat it (and also because he rules, even if he only wrestles between contract negotiations with Dana White).
Brandon Kyla: Nobody made more out of less screen time this year than Brock did. He destroyed everything in his way, presumably leading to his inevitable doom. It’s not often that I second guess my own second guessing but despite my own protestation, Lesnar ending Undertaker’s streak at ‘Mania proved to be one of the best first chapters in a story I’ve seen in a while.
Bill Hanstock: Brock Lesnar is a force of nature. He's the only man in pro wrestling right now who truly transcends the medium. Every time he steps in the ring, it's exciting and unpredictable. With Zayn, Rollins, et al, you know you're almost certainly going to get a spectacular performance. Lesnar takes that same expectation and augments it by being a legitimate deity of ass-whupping. When a 2014-2015 Brock Lesnar match rolls around, you're expecting a hurricane. You just don't know if it's the kind of hurricane that's going to drive a fencepost through a cow, or the kind of hurricane that's going to send Florida down into the ocean to join Lemuria and Atlantis. There's a lot of variance there, but it's all fantastic and as exciting as hell.
Right now, Ronda Rousey is probably the most exciting single entity in all of sports. When one of her matches is coming up, you're tingling with anticipation of her tearing some foolish opponent's arm off, while at the same time being absolutely terrified at the prospect of her losing a match. Brock Lesnar is the closest pro wrestling comes to touching that anticipation and excitement in the year of our lord (our lord being Brock Lesnar) 2015. Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Harper, et al are the best wrestlers in the world. Brock Lesnar is on a higher plane of existence. He has transcended being a pro wrestler and is simply BROCK LESNAR, all caps.
I hope he signs a lifetime contract with the WWE and wrestles three matches a year, forever. I'll love every single one of them.
Martin Bentley: No-one else even gets considered on the back of only wrestling four matches, two of them being complete duds, but Brock Lesnar is not "other people". He has the presence and aura that no-one else except possibly Kevin Owens has, and even he's at a much lower level than Brock. His matches are considered big deals, and must-see appointments. He changed the game of main events with his 15 minute mauling of John Cena at SummerSlam. He did the unthinkable of ending The Streak, and manage to mask the fact that the match with The Undertaker absolutely sucked, mainly due to a Taker concussion. Brock Lesnar plays by his own rules, and professional wrestling these days would be a far poorer industry without him.
Dan Vecellio: BORK is far past the days of performing shooting star presses in the ring. He'll throw you around, beat you down and laugh a lot. But that's all he needs to do.
I put Lesnar at #1 in my ballot because I believe he has the highest entertainment-to-moveset ratio in wrestling at the moment. His offense really only consists of German suplexes, the F5, elbows and fist to the face and the occasional Kimura. And yet, he can tell a great story based on his limited, yet powerful offense combined with being one of the most underrated sellers in the business. When he goes on the offensive, it absolutely feels like he can't be contained until he allows his opponent to flip the script. His look of legitimate shock when he beat the Undertaker was storytelling at its best, even if the match didn't live up to expectations. His utter dominance of Cena at SummerSlam was laid-out and methodical. Eating an AA in the first minute at Night of Champions and making sure to show a more even performance that night showed a definite middle-ground between the extremes at which Brock can tell a story. (And this isn't even considering the announce table bump he took at the 2015 Royal Rumble)
I love the high-flyers. I love the technical wrestling workers. But in 2014, there was no one I loved more than the reigning, defending, undisputed WWE heavyweight champion of the world, Brrrr-ack Lesssneeeerr.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Jeff Stormer)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked
TH: If not for the passion of Sami Zayn, Sasha Banks would have been the best worker in not only the greater WWE, but in America. She only had one chance to get a spotlight at a NXT live special, but she knocked that shit out of the park. Week-to-week, she made her bones wrestling in shorter matches, telling stories with less fanfare, and looking damn good doing it. Any time she got in the ring with Bayley, the results were outstanding, and thankfully, they opposed each other plenty of times during the year. She not only made wrestling look easy, maybe a little too easy, but she perhaps did so with the most swagger, panache, confidence. If anyone deserved to be called The Boss, it was Banks.
James Girouard: Charlotte might have the higher ceiling, but right now, Sasha Banks is the best female in-ring performer in WWE. She has believable offense, is a terrific seller, and rarely seems out of position during a match.
Jeff Stormer: 2014 was the year of the NXT Women's Division. And despite not being the champion in 2014, and being surrounded by a group of outstanding talents, Sasha Banks was the glue of that division. What really sealed that for me was not that Sasha Banks wrestled well in the ring (which she did), or that she played her character well in the ring (which she did), or even that she made her opponents look good in the ring (which, you get the idea). For me, it's that Sasha Banks made her opponents look like better versions of themselves.
Sasha Banks possesses an incredible ability to adjust the dials of her character on the fly to perfectly match the person she was fighting, while still remaining grounded in her own character--that scrappy submission specialist with a chip on shoulder. Against Charlotte, her selling, cowardice, and often desperate facial expressions were always on display, making the Women's Champion look like a proper conquering monster. Against Bayley, she was fabulously cruel and overconfident, unleashing running slaps and taunts and making Bayley's comeback perfectly earned. And against Alexa Bliss, she was stiff, brutal, and unforgiving, seemingly gaining a foot of height.
It's said a wrestler is only as good as their opponents--and that's why Sasha Banks was my #1 wrestler of the year. Because no matter who she wrestled, she was the best possible opponent.
Kevin Held: Might be the closest we ever get to "Lady Nakamura" without that being her calling card. That is a wonderful thing. She's got a stellar character, stellar ring work, stellar look; in short, she has IT.
Joshua Browns: Hopefully at some point in the future, we'll be talking about how 2015 was the year that women's wrestling started really happening, at least on WWE television. And if that's the case, Sasha Banks will be one of the leaders of that movement.
Brandon Spears: For my money, NXT was the best show of 2014 in terms of in-ring work, with Sasha Banks being the runner up MVP second only to Sami Zayn. That says a lot. There wasn't a more improved wrestler in 2014 and Sasha showed that in leaps and bounds every week. Sasha is a performer with ten times the charisma of most men and women on the main roster and I would be so excited to see what she could do on RAW if I weren't so nervous about her being relegated to "lumberjill" matches and tag team matches that last no more than thirty seconds. But if there's anybody whose charisma and presence in the ring that could survive those situations, it's The Boss.
Ryan Foster: 2014 saw the emergence of four tremendously promising female wrestlers in NXT, and none more so than Sasha Banks. Banks has perfectly melded character and in-ring style into a fully realized heel willing to cut corners but fully capable of winning on her abilities alone. While Charlotte carried the gold for much of 2014, it was her foil Sasha who was most responsible for building the NXT women’s division into one of the most fascinating and can’t-miss wrestling experiences of the year. Banks’s future stardom is assured – it rests with the WWE brass to decide whether it will happen in the ring or on a reality show.
Luke Starr: Despite all the love Sasha Banks gets, I wonder how many people truly realize how much she’s grown over the past few years, and even from January to December in 2014 alone. She’s as good at selling as she ever was, she’s even better at allowing her offense to register with the crowd than she was the year prior, and her ability to transition from move to move and even adjust her pace to emphasize her opponent’s style is as good as anyone I’ve seen in quite awhile. Is my ranking too high for the NXT Women’s Champ? Only if you haven’t been paying attention.
Brandon Bosh: For much of 2014, Sasha Banks was NXT’s version of Mindy Kaling in that American Express commercial, ignored and slighted until she started to wonder if she might actually be invisible. Make no mistake: Sasha was constantly overlooked, both by casual wrestling fans and by the devout audience of Full Sail Arena (“Sasha’s Ratchet” chants notwithstanding). She worked twice as hard for a fraction of the credit, while NXT fans lavished praise upon a series of more obvious standouts: Paige, Emma, Bayley, Natalya, and especially Charlotte. Sasha’s Sisyphean struggle for validation lent an air of truthfulness to her character’s crippling insecurity: she claimed to be “The Boss”, but no one wanted to listen. Finally, after paying her dues as Summer Rae’s flunky and Bayley’s favorite suplex recipient, Sasha earned a Women’s Championship match against Charlotte at NXT Takeover: R-Evolution. Despite coming up short in her title bid, she seized the brass ring with both hands and never looked back.
In hindsight, it’s baffling to think that Sasha Banks went largely unrecognized last year. To be sure, she didn’t officially arrive until the exact moment she busted out a tope at R-Evolution, but her fundamentals were impeccable long before that. For instance, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to declare Sasha one of the top three submission specialists in all of WWE. There’s an effortless fluidity to her application of various holds, all of them legitimately painful-looking, as a fitting precursor to her stellar combo finisher. It also wouldn’t be much of a stretch to claim that, pound for pound, Sasha has the most convincingly physical offense in WWE, which is virtually unheard of from a 5’5” featherweight with a prototypical Diva physique.
Still, Sasha’s greatest attribute isn’t her technical prowess, her striking acumen, or her indie pedigree; instead, it’s her steadfast dedication to embodying Sasha Banks every single moment she’s onscreen. So many WWE performers have been trained (or re-trained) to pantomime the exact same match on every show, with no freedom to engage the crowd or improvise with their opponent. Sasha, meanwhile, always manages to supplement every match with a handful of superb character beats, whether she’s imploring Charlotte to submit or mocking Bayley’s inflatable tube men. Between her athletic excellence and her unwavering commitment to her alter ego, Sasha Banks was one of the most well-rounded performers in WWE last year – and the really scary thing is that she’s improved dramatically since then.
Nick Ahlhelm: Sasha was the best female wrestler in the United States in 2014. While we watched the evolution of Charlotte and Paige into great stars, Sasha started out the year strong and only looked better and better as she continued through the year. Her feud with Charlotte may not have brought her many wins before the calendar turned to 2015, but their matches were always epic. With her continued growth as a great mat grappler, Sasha will only get better as she moves through 2015 and towards a call up to the main roster.
Mike Pankowski: I don’t think I enjoyed a wrestler showing off their in-ring character into their work more than The Boss. They should be showing all the people in the Performance Center tapes of her matches while saying “Act like that when in the ring”. Sasha’s moveset has also grown well this year. While she doesn’t always get the attention Charlotte does, she is equally as important in growing the NXT women’s division.
Brad Canze: A true story about me is my eyes well up with tears every time I hear the intro to Sasha Banks' theme music. I've watched her grow from a tertiary, no-story, do-nothing-but-be-there wrestler into THE BOSS, a fully formed, fully fabulous, technically proficient whiz in the ring who can go with anybody. And something about that music makes me well up with pride, like I'm part of her success. I think that is an important part of a popular wrestler that we can't always pinpoint. People who love Daniel Bryan feel like when he succeeds, they succeed. Same with Sami Zayn. Eddie Guerrero was the same way. And that's how I feel about Sasha Banks.
Martin Bentley: The Boss went from someone who merely aspired to be one to actually being one over the course of the year. Banks moved from being Charlotte's sidekick to being on-par with Mr. Flair's Baby Girl in-ring, whilst also displaying a vicious streak, and continually having great matches with Bayley. Banks may in fact be the WWE's most complete female worker already, and it's only a matter of time before the wider world takes notice of it.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Rene Sanchez)
Last Year's Placement: 13th Place
TH: Ziggler made some hay in 2014 after calls for him getting pushed were finally answered. He was able to have some incredible matches over the Intercontinental Championship with a variety of opponents. He also scaled back his turbo-bumping and was able to compensate in other areas.
Rene Sanchez: I’m a homer for Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler is my Seahawks, my Ducks, my Trail Blazers, basically he’s my guy and I always root for him. There is a reason why I care so much about his success and it comes back to what he does in the ring. Everyone knows about the “Ziggler Scale” and everyone loves how Ziggler can go lifeless in the ring when selling a move and it’s those attributes that created some of the highlights of 2014 for the WWE. The Survivor Series match booking worked because Ziggler is so good at selling and doing what he does best in the ring. The next Pay Per View after that, TLC, was a clunker of an event, but the best match on that night was a Ladder Match between Ziggler and Luke Harper. All Ziggler does is continually execute great matches on big stages and that is why he is my favorite and a deserving entry on the TWB 100.
Joshua Browns: How is this guy not a star already? Best bumps in the business, a great look, solid work from bell-to-bell every night. I think Ziggler is a better finish away from being a huge star.
Mike Pankowski: It can be a little over the top at times, but I love Ziggler selling every move like it hurts. That guy flops around like 100 European soccer players in the ring and does so like it’s no big deal. He looks like he has been through a war after any big match. And he rises to the occasion with outstanding performances in those big events, like in the main event at Survivor Series.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Mat Morgan)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked
TH: For someone who was still awkward in the ring up until her breakout match, Charlotte becoming one of the elite workers in NXT was the shock of all shocks. Still, she built upon a masterwork of a match against Natalya at the first Takeover, proving each week that it wasn't a fluke until by the end of the year she was poised to seize the world by the shorthairs. She discovered grappling and made it a huge part of her style, and then she absorbed her father's knack for the big moment in matches. She had three showcase matches at the three Takeover events against three different opponents, and all of them were either the best or second best contests on the card. That's impressive.
Joshua Browns: As good as Sasha Banks was in 2014, Charlotte was very nearly as good - and she's still so new. If things ever really "click" for her, watch out. The Giannis Antetokounmpo of wrestling.
Ryan Foster: One of the biggest stories of 2014 is the amount of prestige and anticipation developed around Women’s Championship matches in NXT, the likes of which have never been seen on the main roster, and Charlotte was the one to bear the title to these heights. Charlotte's match with Natalya at NXT Takeover was a revelation, as Charlotte proved her ability to make a match seem truly important purely through her performance between the ropes. She has kept the pace ever since, and no other wrestler in in NXT - perhaps even in WWE proper - has delivered as consistently.
Brandon Bosh: It’s hard to believe, but when Charlotte first won the NXT Women’s Championship at the inaugural Takeover special, she received virtually no credit for her effort. Instead, the prevailing narrative dictated that Natalya finally got a chance to shine as a technical wizard, essentially carrying the Nature Boy’s green-but-promising daughter to a Match of the Year candidate. To be fair, Charlotte isn’t quite a complete performer yet; she’s only been a pro for a couple of years, and she occasionally forgets to play the proverbial “music between the notes” when transitioning from one move to another. Still, on a purely athletic basis, Charlotte has pretty clearly eclipsed every woman wrestler in WWE and possibly in North America.
If Sasha Banks was the brains of the NXT women’s revolution and Bayley was the heart, then Charlotte was unquestionably the muscle. Just look at some of the moves that she introduced to mainstream women’s wrestling: gorgeous swinging neckbreakers, surprisingly believable spears, Alex Shelley’s old “skullfucker” thing, and a picture-perfect moonsault (complete with a moonsault-to-somersault variation seemingly inspired by kingshit high-flyer and recent New Japan Cup winner Kota Ibushi) – and that’s to say nothing of her bridged Figure 4, which probably elicited a few gasps the first time she unveiled it. So impressive was Charlotte’s offensive arsenal that it even managed to erase the memory of her lousy finisher and its equally lousy original name. So, yes – Charlotte tapped into her familial talent pool at a prodigious and slightly alarming rate. If anything, her improvement was so rapid that wrestling pundits initially failed to comprehend it (see above). For most WWE performers, a title like “Genetically Superior” would sound forced and stilted. In Charlotte’s case, it’s just the truth.
Nick Ahlhelm: No one in wrestling shows off their good genetics the way Charlotte does. She started 2014 still rather green in the ring, but by the time she faced Natalya at NXT Takeover in May, that had changed. She looked crisp and clean in that contest and as her reign as NXT Women’s Champion continued, she only continued to cement her place as the future face of the Divas division. Few folks had as good a 2014 as Charlotte did and no one showed a growth of talent nearly as fast as she did.
Martin Bentley: Until Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville produced their magic in December, the best WWE singles match of 2014 featured Charlotte, the daughter of Ric Flair who had only been wrestling for a couple of years, and isn't close to reaching her full capabilities. But quite simply, only Kurt Angle in the last 20 years has taken to professional wrestling as quickly as Charlotte. She proved this later in the year by matching her Natalya bout with the R-Evolution battle with Sasha Banks, which is more incredible given Banks' experience level in comparison with Natalya. Her RAW appearance showed the fears of how the main roster will treat her, but Charlotte has shown that quality will shine through in the end.
TJ Hawke: I definitely agree with Charlotte's critics that have written about her distinct in-ring deficiencies. However, in her three NXT Special matches, she produced three unique matches that were some of the most interesting matches on WWE programming all year. Were circumstances in her favor? Absolutely. She still had to deliver though, and I think she did just that.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Angelo Castillo, Tanner Teat)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked
TH: Rusev came onto the main roster after Mania, and he immediately started turning in solid performances in the ring, even when put against inferior competition like Jack Swagger. Even starting at a high level, he kept improving until he became one of the surest things on WWE free television by the end of the year.
Joshua Browns: I love his style, and I think he works pretty well with just about anybody. They should have let him feud with Big E longer, as I thought those matches were more entertaining than anything else he did all year.
Brandon Spears: It continues to amaze me that Rusev could still be considered a relative newcomer, because he just gets it. If I was an NFL mock draft expert I would say that Rusev has "all the intangibles." The pacing of his matches (whether it's a squash or one that lasts more than five minutes) is incredible and I don't think I'll ever get sick of watching his matches.
Joey Splashwater: Knowing how WWE developmental has been inept at developing new talent that wasn't made in ROH or PWG, I had little to no hope for Rusev, especially given the gimmick but how wrong I was. I took note of Rusev when he had a great match vs. Big E on PPV that completely surpassed my expectations.
Rusev even went on to get the best out of Jack Swagger to the point where fans believed in Swagger. Yes, that may be due to a USA vs. the world gimmick but I think you have to excel in the ring to get enough respect where fans care to give a response to your heel work yet boo your ass out of the building and cheer for the comeback of a less credible wrestler.
Ryan Foster: RUSEV MACHKA! No WWE wrester emerged faster or stronger in 2014 than Rusev. While those of us who expected a musclebound stiff in the Ryback mold can be forgiven, it also didn’t take long to be proven completely off the mark. Rusev’s style is a bit of a throwback for modern WWE terms, which has worked greatly to his advantage as it allows him to stand out in a company that has moved increasingly towards monolithic, generic TV matches. Rusev has refused to conform, and as a result even his less successful matches maintained my interest. Time will tell whether Rusev can continue to thrive without the win streak or, perhaps eventually, without Lana, one of the more brilliant seconds in wrestling today. But I would bet on it.
Joey O: I didn't really dig Rusev in NXT but once he got going on the main roster, he CRUSHED, as an impressive brawler who could really move in the ring. Bonus points for wrestling barefoot, because *ouch*!
Brandon Bosh: If I might attempt an awkward analogy, Rusev is this year’s Sheamus. In other words, he’s a vastly improved, widely underrated performer who could fall through the cracks in a year-end vote solely because of his onscreen presentation. Granted, as gimmicks go, “1980s Russian heel” is still far more endearing than Sheamus’s distinct brand of smirking, boorish jackassery, but it’s not terribly original, either. Happily, even when Rusev’s character remained indebted to Cold War-era cheap heat, his work as a professional wrestler in 2014 was nearly unrivaled.
Delivering on the promise of his brief NXT tenure, Rusev performed a series of small miracles last year, not least of which was his dogged determination to work numerous three-star matches with Jack Swagger long after their feud had lost its novelty. Rusev proved his athletic superiority with a stunning combination of strength, speed, and agility, but his greatest asset was something rarer: a willingness to appear vulnerable, to nurse targeted body parts as if they were actually injured. By selflessly selling his opponents’ offense, Rusev set an example that his latest all-American rival, John Cena, should take to heart. It’s weirdly ironic that WWE’s most recognizably human performer in 2014 was an unstoppable Soviet supersoldier, but there you have it.
Nick Ahlhelm: When Rusev first debuted at the Royal Rumble, I wrote him off as just another one note big guy. But by the time he faced Big E at Payback, I was coming around on him. Rusev sold incredibly well and had a lot more in his repertoire than a few punches and kicks. As his pro-Russia anti-America screed continued through the year, he faced down Jack Swagger, Mark Henry and Big Show in some great matches, even when his foe was even bigger than he was. He beat Sheamus to win the US title and has since cemented himself as a dominant champion. The undefeated Russian now seems almost hampered by his undefeated gimmick. Rusev has only more room to grow as WWE develops him more and more.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Devon Hales, Francis Adu)
Last Year's Placement: 15th Place
TH: Luke Harper, despite the lack of sustained push (which really, could be said for any WWE superstar save a few), got plenty of opportunities to rake in the ring, and he made the most of them. He was the strongest competitor on his team during the Wyatt Family's feud with The Shield, and he and Erick Rowan going against the Usos helped keep WWE's match quality afloat in the summer time. By the end of the year, he was engaging in brutal singles brawls, including an unusually violent-for-WWE ladder match against Dolph Ziggler at TLC, which helped cement his case as one of the best, if not the best worker on the main roster. He showed the entire package, from timing and pacing to the extra pinch of special that his wild eyed glare can give to a wrestling match.
Joey Splashwater: The most underrated wrestler in WWE. Whether in tag, trios or singles action, Luke Harper always performed at a high level. I wish I could recall each match individually but I just remember him having a slew of great ones on RAW for a good few months. Harper did great work with John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, the Usos, The Shield and many more. Please give this man more opportunities.
Chris McDonald: I love this guy. And in my bizarro fantasy bookings, I can totally see him as WWE Champion as a …. face! Harper plays the big bad scary heel but I truly believe that he can take it to the next level as a face. Plus the fact that he can do a superkick while wearing those jeans always amazes me. Long live Harper!
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Willow Maclay, Joe Drilling)
Last Year's Placement: 6th Place
TH: It's telling that the only guy in The Shield who didn't regress in the ring after the group broke up was Ambrose. He continued to be as strong in singles matches as he did as the wild card element within trios matches. Without his spark taking the Wyatt matches to the next level, they would not have garnered as much critical acclaim. His insanity was a superb counterweight to Randy Orton's slithery sneakiness in the Evolution matches. And even though nearly all of his singles matches were plagued with asinine finishes, he did his best to make them all work, from the ridiculous (exploding TVs or shoving pumpkins on his opponents' heads) to the sublime (taking the curb stomp on "cinder blocks").
James Girouard: While I think Dean Ambrose - the character - is overrated at times, Dean Ambrose - the worker - is vastly underrated. His lumberjack and HIAC matches with Seth Rollins were out-and-out spectacles, and he did yeoman's work in elevating his matches with Bray Wyatt to something more than traditional WWE upper mid-card fare. Ambrose is one of those rare guys in WWE that captures your attention in and out of the ring, and that's a good thing.
Brandon Spears: Books could be written about how The Shield was one the greatest stables in WWE history, and let's face, there probably will be. And while their breakup was probably poorly timed, I think it's safe to say that everyone was excited about what each member's future would hold as singles competitors. It was so much fun seeing Ambrose continue to channel the unhinged nature of Roddy Piper and Brian Pillman while still getting the fans behind him in a big way.
Joey O: For the majority of 2014, Dean Ambrose was on fire - one of the most believable motivations in the WWE in ages was how much Ambrose loathed Seth Rollins for destroying The Shield and wanting to ruin his life in return. From The Shield's final run of glory in the first third of the year, to his high-energy feud with Rollins..right up until that silly monitor blew up in his face, Ambrose was a true high point of WWE TV.
Brandon Bosh: In the 2013 edition of the TWB 100, I declared Dean Ambrose a volatile, unpredictable presence who instilled his matches with a very necessary sense of real danger and chaos. I stand by some of those claims, but in 2014 it became clear that Ambrose isn’t a caustic agent of verisimilitude, a la Brock Lesnar. That title belonged to Jon Moxley, he of the "Explicit Violence" trunks and the backyard garbage bloodfests. Ambrose, by contrast, is the safest, most reliable wrestler in the world – and that’s exactly what makes him so valuable.
If Lesnar thinks wrestling is real, Dean Ambrose undoubtedly knows that it’s total bullshit. That doesn’t mean it can’t be wildly entertaining, though, as some of Ambrose’s best matches in 2014 were almost entirely smoke and mirrors. Just look at his memorable and somewhat miraculous lumberjack match against his arch-nemesis, Seth Rollins. On the Venn diagram of sports and entertainment, this match leaned heavily into the latter category; the lumberjacks served as the collaborators, the extras, while Ambrose was the actor and stuntman rolled into one. Moreover, Ambrose’s 2014 moveset seldom relied on actual wrestling maneuvers; instead, it consisted largely of rapid flurries of inchoate strikes, or repeated running dives off of progressively higher platforms. Ambrose is a ball of kinetic energy, but that energy is always expertly contained (think of Michael Cole’s “controlled chaos” cliche, but in shoot terms). Through sheer work ethic, he can make virtually any match or storyline entertaining, and in 2014 WWE gave him plenty of both that could’ve been disastrous for a lesser talent. In a way, Ambrose has realized the platonic ideal of a WWE match: a wild, uncontrollable brawl that is perfectly modulated and choreographed; a shocking display of wanton violence in which everyone escapes unharmed. Wrestling is SUPPOSED to be fake, you guys. That’s the best thing about it.
Joe Drilling: As a guy who does a podcast that is a week-by-week look at the Monday Night Wars Era of professional wrestling, I tend to look at everything through that filter. Some people I know sort of likened Dean Ambrose to Stone Cold. I’d love to see him reach those kinds of heights, but I don’t see that. If anything, as weird as it is, Daniel Bryan is the closest we have to a Stone Cold right now.
Dean Ambrose actually fits pretty well into the Owen Hart role of that era. Immediately after Bret left WWF/E, Owen began showing up unbidden on Raw to pummel DX, then disappear. He was viewed as unstable, but justified. Driven to the brink by the treatment of his brother and Jim Neidhart (who teased joined DX, before Chyna dick punched him and they sent him off of Raw with a sign on his back that said “WCW”).
Dean doesn’t have quite that set up, but following his betrayal at the hands of Seth Rollins, he took a similar path, and the matches that resulted were fantastic. I mean, his work in the Shield was great, too, and I find it interesting that he was positioned as the standout singles star (having an extended US Title run as a Shield member while Mr. Money in the Bank and one half of the WrestleMania main event had the tag titles).
The first half of the year (almost exactly) saw him in the Shield and having some show stealing matches. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family all-heel six man clusterfuckstravaganza at Elimination Chamber was amazing, just as a for example. In the back half of the year, he feuded heavily with former Shield-mate, Seth Rollins and they had some instant classics. The reason for this is certainly partially to Rollins’ credit, but Ambrose is really good.
Ambrose is good for two main reasons. The first is, he commits to his character, be that a cunning member (leader?) of The Shield or a lone wolf being pushed to his breaking point. Those characters don’t just go away when the bell rings. His actions during matches communicate those characters to the audience. Which brings us to point two, he can tell a story.
Dean Ambrose matches are almost always airtight narratives. There is a reason for every move, he doesn’t do moves just for the sake of doing them. Everything serves the story he and his opponent(s) want to tell, and in 2014, with a largely absentee world champion, he got the chance to tell long stories in interesting matches. That is why Dean Ambrose was my pick for best wrestler of 2014.
Tomorrow, fifth place finds a NXT standout.