Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The 2014 TWB 100 Slow Release: #40-#21

The Usos kicked faces and asses in 2014
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Today's installment has a bunch of wrestlers who received first place votes and some of the heaviest hitters from the indie scene.

40. Jey Uso
Points: 2209
Ballots: 33
Highest Vote Received: 11th Place (Cewsh)
Last Year's Placement: 38th Place

Photo Credit: WWE.com
39. Triple H
Points: 2214
Ballots: 33
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Cewsh)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: Even as the most ardent Triple H hater, I can't deny that he may have been the best limited-date wrestler in 2014 in WWE (Sorry, Brock). He wrestled in three big-time pay-per-view mains and a RAW match, and all four of them were at least good, if not great. The performance across from Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania was one of the best I've ever seen from him.

Dave Kincannon: Triple H only had four matches in 2014. Two singles contests against Daniel Bryan and two trios matches against The Shield. That’s not a lot of time to make an impression, but those four matches were all good enough to get the King of Kings into the TWB 100. I’ve always been pretty middle of the road on Triple H. I’ve never thought he was as bad as some people think he is, but I’ve never thought he was as good as he thinks he is. However, the WrestleMania match with Daniel Bryan was great, and may be one of the best WrestleMania matches in the 30 year history of that event.

Joey Splashwater: I gave Triple H a high ranking on my list despite performing just three matches because his three performances were pure perfection. The matches made Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns look like mega-stars. Those 3 matches were probably the greatest example of wrestling matches "telling stories" as anything you'll find in 2014.

Ryan Foster: I normally wouldn't include a wrestler with such a limited resume for the year, but the handful of performances Triple H put in in 2014 against Daniel Bryan and the Shield included some of the year’s best. In his WrestleMania match, Triple H was able to resist the temptation to wrestle a Triple H match and delivered a near-perfect Daniel Bryan match, which far exceeded my expectations. In his trios work with Evolution, Hunter brought his usual intensity while allowing others to share the spotlight. While he only wrestled a few times, this was likely Triple H’s best in-ring year in over a decade.

38. Jimmy Uso
Points: 2220
Ballots: 33
Highest Vote Received: 10th Place (Cewsh)
Last Year's Placement: 37th Place

TH: Both Usos are similar in the ring to each other, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when they complement each other so well. It's almost as if Jimmy and Jey could be considered one wrestler that is always fresh, much in the same way the Young Bucks have perfected that paradigm on the indies. A lot of people gave them shit for booking, and to speak truth, the brothers were booked as Samoan tag team John Cenas most of the year. However, one can only hold the decisions of the office against them so much, and they were pretty much the best thing going in WWE from a match quality standpoint between the end of The Shield and the Sheamus US Title run kicking into gear after SummerSlam. Seriously, if you take those tag matches with the Wyatts off the summer PPVs, you have nothing that really stands out until SummerSlam. The Usos deserve all the credit in the world, and in a just world, they'll get to face the Young Bucks and blow everyone's minds at some point this coming year.

Joey Splashwater: The Usos were among the most consistent source of very good wrestling matches in WWE last year. Many overlook them due to culture of many fans in our world disliking "bland babyface characters" but when it comes to in ring performances, Rikishi's kids tore it up in 2014 and deserve to be very high on this list.

Nick Ahlhelm: Let’s be honest about the WWE and the Young Bucks. When WWE has talents as good as Rikishi’s sons, they don’t need Matt and Nick Jackson. And while the comparisons between the two teams is obvious, Jey and his brother Jimmy spend 2014 defining themselves as a top tag team in any league in epic encounters with the New Age Outlaws, the Wyatt Family, the Dust Brothers and the unit of Miz and Damien Mizdow. The Usos have finally come into their own as top WWE stars and if the company can continue its focus on solid tag team wrestling, they should have a place for years to come.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
37. Nikki Bella
Points: 2297
Ballots: 35
Highest Vote Received: 9th Place (Brandon Armstrong)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: Nikki Bella came out of nowhere to become the strongest female worker on the main roster since the heyday of Beth Phoenix. She worked big so well despite not having a whole lot of height on her opponents, and she threw the best elbows/forearms in the company by far. Plus, she should get points for developing a mean shit talking and taunting game during matches as part of a heel persona that felt like it was developing for years, not months.

Joshua Browns: I don't think she's ever going to be as good as the likes of Sasha Banks or Charlotte, but give credit where credit's due - she's put in a ton of work to improve and it's paid off. Having good to very good matches nearly every time she's given sufficient time these days. She carries herself like an unquestioned bad-ass in the ring, and for some reason, it rings true.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
36. Hideo Itami
Points: 2368
Ballots: 36
Highest Vote Received: 8th Place (John Rosenberger)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Joshua Browns: Itami started faster than his counterpart Bálor, but seemed to struggle to adapt to the WWE style. He looks like he started to really get it in December. Itami could fill a Ricky Steamboat role on a future WWE main roster.

Nick Ahlhelm: Long-time Ring of Honor fans know the former KENTA well, but in 2014 he cemented himself as a future face of WWE as Hideo Itami. He seriously upped the Ascension's game in singles matches and alongside Finn Bálor, even as he went through the growing pains of debuting a new double stomp finisher. (His two Japanese finishers were now in use by CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.) While not quite as flashy in his NXT run as a few other independent stars turned future WWE talents, Itami’s future looks bright as part of WWE’s continued international growth.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
35. Biff Busick
Points: 2385
Ballots: 31
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Drew Cordeiro)
Last Year's Placement: 36th Place

TH: When you get compared favorably to Bryan Danielson, you're going to raise a few eyebrows, but when those comparisons are completely legit? Then you're probably going to get a top five vote on my TWB 100 ballot if I've seen enough of your work. Biff Busick's hype train is a mile long, but he's one of those guys who is worth every word spent in praise about him and then some. Maybe his greatest quality is his versatility. He's gotten a lot of street cred for his work against the Thatchers and Sabres of the world, but he can go out and wrestle a classic, "sports entertainment" style match with classic structure, or he can do the super indie thing. He can do face or heel. He chains counters but also has a deep well from which he can draw emotional comebacks. Along with Kimber Lee, he made Beyond Wrestling one of the must-watch promotions for in-ring work in 2014, period.

Joshua Browns: I'm basing these votes (also for Drew Gulak) entirely on an extended YouTube rabbit hole after seeing Drew Gulak absolutely tear it up with Ashley Remington at NPWD last month, but I really like what I see from both Gulak and Busick. It's super cool to see so many young indy wrestlers adopting old-school "shoot-style" movesets as their shtick, and I haven't seen anybody who does it as well as Busick and Gulak.

Martin Bentley: 2014 saw Biff Busick's stock rise big time, becoming CZW Champion, continuing to impress at Beyond Wrestling, foraying into the WWN Universe, and even breaking through into PWG. A part of the crop of amazing grapplers coming through, alongside the likes of Drew Gulak, Timothy Thatcher, Kyle O'Reilly and Zack Sabre Jr., Busick brings the added intensity that makes his style more interesting to watch than most.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
34. Adam Cole
Points: 2455
Ballots: 34
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Julio del Aguila, Martin Bentley)
Last Year's Placement: 20th Place

TH: His caustic heel work helped get a bunch of matches over. It could be argued that he was the Roddy Piper to Candice LeRae's Hulk Hogan (if the Young Bucks would then be considered her Andre the Giant).

Julio del Aguila: ADAM COLE BAYBAY! King of Reseda and had a phenomenal year with Ring of Honor, this man has the whole cocky heel thing down to a science.

Rene Sanchez: Whatever kind of heel that you want in the ring, Adam Cole can provide that for you. If you need a weasel heel, Cole can give you that. If you want a more dominant heel, Cole can give you that. Chris Hero spoke on a recent episode of the Cheap Heat podcast and basically said as much about how talented and diverse Cole is as a heel in the ring. Cole enthralls me when he is in the ring and I can’t get enough of his matches. I look forward to continually watch him annoy and destroy more people in the future.

Martin Bentley: Ring of Honor is known for some legendary title reigns, and Adam Cole's ranks high among them. The Panama City Playboy and leader of The Kingdom saw off the likes of Chris Hero and Jay Briscoe in the early part of the year, before losing the title on ROH's debut live PPV to Michael Elgin. Cole also concluded his great PWG World Title run, which included a very good defense against Candice LeRae, ending with a spectacular bout with his old Future Shock pal Kyle O'Reilly.

Post title-runs, Cole had US run-ins with worthy opponents such as AJ Styles, Zack Sabre Jr. and Trevor Lee, as well as resuming his ROH rivalry with Jay Briscoe at the end of the year. Cole's smarminess and reading of the game is near unparalleled in today's business, and given he's still a very young man, he's someone who'll be operating at the top level for at least another 20 years if things go well.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
33. Candice LeRae
Points: 2502
Ballots: 33
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Michael Dupin)
Last Year's Placement: 68th Place

TH: She took the country by storm by thrusting the issue of intergender wrestling into everyone's consciousness, but regardless of the controversy, the fact of the matter was that she was one of the best, if not the best wrestler in nearly every match she was in. She was a fearless bumper with impeccable sense of balance and equilibrium to complete her lucha-inspired offense. She was also excellent in both tags and singles matches.

Michael Dupin: “When did she become one of the god damn best wrestlers in the fuckng world?! This is bullshit!” -- Kevin Steen, PWG’s Matt Rushmore, 2013

The year, officially, was 2014, Kevin, and it is most definitely not bullshit. Candice LeRae took a huge leap in ‘14, shattering any and all female wrestling stereotypes, especially those in regards to intergender wrestling. She was given major opportunities in the usually female adverse Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, challenging Adam Cole for the PWG World Championship, competing in the Battle Of Los Angeles, and winning the PWG Tag Team Championships with her partner Joey Ryan, collectively known as the World’s Greatest Tag Team. It was that match, with the Young Bucks, at “ELEVEN” (a legit Match of the Year Contender) that really solidified LeRae’s placed amongst the elite. There aren’t many men that would take a superkick from the Young Bucks, much less one involving a thumb tack covered boot. LeRae did. She ended up a bloody mess, but it was she who had her hand raised high in victory. She did everything in her power to change people’s perception of intergender wrestling, and if you’re still on the wrong side of the debate, man, I feel sorry for you, because you’re missing out on some good shit.

Brandon Kyla: Candice is the toughest wrestler in the world. It may not always be enticing to watch her basically get immolated on a constant basis (it's actually kinda hard to watch), but it's the most satisfying to see her get the upper hand and beat her opponent to death in retaliation. 2014 had to be her strongest year yet, and her boss battle with the Young Bucks in PWG was one for the ages.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
32. Sheamus
Points: 2569
Ballots: 35
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year's Placement: 29th Place

TH: Much like the Usos, the gap between how Sheamus was booked and his ability in the ring was wider than the Grand Canyon, but for as much hullabaloo as counterparts like Cesaro or Rusev got, Sheamus was probably even better than they were on a week-to-week basis when he was healthy. He was a monster in the Elimination Chamber, maybe second only to Cesaro in total performance. He followed that up with a feud with Christian that produced incredible brawls. He kept soldiering on until he got the United States Championship, after which he had some tremendous defenses. The match with Cesaro at Night of Champions was outstanding, and his last match of the year against Rusev where he dropped the belt was a tremendous use of the Network gimmick. It's a shame his year was cut short, but he made the most of it, clubberin' and taking other guys' clubberin' to be the best main roster WWE wrestler of the year in 2014.

Ryan Foster: Sheamus is a top-ten talent every year when he’s healthy and his absence for much of the year was strongly felt in WWE. While he isn’t throwing around crazy brainbusters, Sheamus introduces an element of strong style to a company badly in need of more diversity in the ring. Sheamus really ramped up his wild ferocity in the summer, leading to classic brawls with Cesaro and Rusev.

Mike Pankowski: While the character Sheamus had his usually lackluster showing, the wrestler Sheamus was again a joy to watch in the ring. He makes a lot of power moves look effortless and he tailors his matches well against the type of opponent he faces. His hoss battles with Cesaro during the middle of the year were among my favorite matches of the year. Sheamus didn’t break out as many new moves this past year as he did in the past, but he still has a wide range of skills in the ring.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
31. Roman Reigns
Points: 2626
Ballots: 45
Highest Vote Received: 8th Place (Brandon Armstrong)
Last Year's Placement: 5th Place

TH: Yeah, he faltered when given his singles push, but no one can deny the impact he had in trios matches the first part of the year. His imposing presence and big spots were a big reason why matches against the Wyatts and Evolution were so successful.

James Girouard: A lot of people don't like the Roman Reigns character and don't believe he should be headlining WrestleMania. And I concede that Reigns isn't the complete package - yet. But what Reigns does well, he does extremely well, and that's being a completely believable badass in the ring. His SummerSlam match with Randy Orton was just the tip of the iceberg. He might not be Brock Lesnar, but that's an unrealistic standard. Reigns is still an excellent power wrestler who's only going to get better.

Joshua Browns: He started out gangbusters while working in the right role (enforcer of a trio) at the beginning of the year, had all of his flaws exposed when pushed into the wrong role (main event talent) as the year progressed. I fear the future is more "Leakee!" than not.

Nick Ahlhelm: Let’s be honest here—Roman Reigns does not deserve a place too high in this list, but he does deserve to be on this list. Roman isn’t the in-ring competitor that his other two Shield brethren are, but that doesn’t make him a slouch either. Reigns has a great talent for making epic highspots look even more epic. His spear makes even Rhino’s Gore look weak. And while he suffers from the lack of moves of too many top WWE stars, he’s a surprisingly good seller for a young star with the ultra-push he’s receiving. He may not deserve to main event this year’s WrestleMania, but Reigns definitely has a continued place in some great matches going forward.

Bill DiFilippo: Poor Roman Reigns (kind of). He was the baddest badass to ever badass, then he got hurt and got pushed to the moon and forgot how to put a complete sentence together and doesn’t use the word “the” in his promos and now he’s kind of lame. He can still go in the ring, though!

TJ Hawke: As much as I don't think Roman Reigns is nowhere near ready to be a WWE main eventer who is responsible for working singles main events month after month, I do not think he is bad wrestler. More importantly for this list, he was in some of best WWE matches that I saw in 2014 (including the very best one: the first Shield/Wyatts trios match). I like to judge wrestlers by their work. I don't give Reigns as much credit for the Wyatts and Evolution tag matches as others, there's no question that he deserves at least some credit for being a part of them.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
30. ACH
Points: 2635
Ballots: 35
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Chris McDonald)
Last Year's Placement: 23rd Place

TH: Ever since he broke on the scene, ACH has been wowing people with his athleticism and unique ways on how to incorporate those feats into match psychology. While he didn't have a better year than in 2012 when I voted him #1, he may have had a crazier year if that makes sense, especially in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. There, he tagged with AR Fox and had some of the most batshit crazy spotfests I've ever seen. It's one thing to be in those kinds of matches with guys below your paygrade, but when you're up against Ricochet and Rich Swann, then the results are off the charts. Plus, he was great in guest spots for Inspire Pro too. He's so gifted, but unlike guys like Shelton Benjamin, he has been able to put it together and become a wrestler. The future is unwritten for ACH, but his ceiling is sky high.

Dave Kincannon: ACH is great. He had a fantastic 2014, and was involved in one of my favorite matches of the year, his match against Kenny Omega on night two of the Battle of Los Angeles. The two men ended up turning their match into a brief Austin vs The Rock imitation, with ACH playing the part of Stone Cold. I’m always impressed by ACH, especially in an athletic sense, but that match showed me so much more.

Julio del Aguila: From ACW to Inspire to PWG to ROH this man has rocked them all as one of Texas's own.

Joshua Browns: I'm a sucker for a good high-flyer, and ACH is one of the best. His strikes look a little soft and there are times when his act feels a little forced - too much dancing and smiling and not enough wrestling. But if he can get the wrinkles ironed out - holy moly.

Chris McDonald: Go! Go! ACH! So happy with all the success this tremendous athlete has been enjoying on the indies. With Zayn and Bryan on the big stage, it’s ACH who is independent wrestling’s ultimate babyface underdog. He has so much energy in his movements and the balance he displays is uncanny. But what I love most about ACH is his facial expressions during the match. You smile when he smiles. You grimace when he gets knocked loopy. As I wrote earlier, he is a perfect babyface. The sky’s the limit for him. It’s only a matter of time before he is holding a major championship.

Brandon Kyla: ACH is my favorite high flyer in wrestling right now, and actually has been for the past three years. Aside from Ibushi, nobody makes the things he does in the air seem as effortless, and yet nothing he does seems at all pointless or rooted simply in flashiness (though he's got plenty of that).

Photo Credit: WWE.com
29. Bayley
Points: 2855
Ballots: 39
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Angelo Castillo)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: I've seen Bayley described as the heart and soul of the NXT Divas, and while she hasn't had the shine that Charlotte or her eternal nemesis Sasha Banks has gotten, I can totally dig that description of her. She's the rare WWE wrestler who is a babyface, acts like a babyface, and more importantly wrestles completely like one, which made her unique to everyone. Even Emma and Paige before they left for the main roster were great wrestlers but wrestled with heelish tendencies despite the cheers they got. It was refreshing to see someone wrestle like a plucky, almost naive underdog all the time. She embraced her character and it led to perhaps the most unique skillset in the whole company, if not the whole wrestling world, and while her big spotlight match against Charlotte at Takeover: Fatal Four-Way was the big crown jewel, she probably was better as a week-to-week workhorse, especially against Banks.

Brandon Bosh: Bayley was the emotional core of NXT in 2014, but she also served as the fulcrum in some of the year’s best women’s matches. While she may not possess Sasha Banks’ technical finesse or Charlotte’s freakish athleticism, Bayley nevertheless exhibited a raw physicality that made for a fascinating contrast with her buoyant, conflict-averse personality. Every Bayley match told a story, none more effectively than her stirring championship bid against Charlotte at NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way. For my money, there’s a moment late in that match – Bayley on all fours, grimacing in fearless resolve, as Charlotte plots her coup de grace – that ranks as the single finest character beat in big-league women’s wrestling since the days of Trish Stratus and Lita. As one of the women who revolutionized NXT in 2014, Bayley isn’t just a fantastic professional wrestler – she’s a massively important and hugely influential one, too.

Scott Holland: Bayley narrowly missed my top 10. Her 2014 matches on NXT were a revelation. Beyond her showing against Charlotte on the Sept. 11 special, she was a solid contributor to the weekly product, showing a textbook example of using ring work to not just tell a story but to flesh out a character that could have been one dimensional, and to evolve over the course of the year into someone whose very appearance in the ring prepares the crowd for an emotional contest. I hope she gets even more room to grow in 2015.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
28. Cody Rhodes/Stardust
Points: 2863
Ballots: 42
Highest Vote Received: 10th Place (Luke Starr)
Last Year's Placement: 10th Place

Luke Starr: One of the coolest things about the TWB 100 is how focused it is. Voters get clear guidelines, but are encouraged to be as open and explorative as possible within those guidelines. Though we’re not judging gimmicks here, how clearly one communicates their gimmick in the ring and how those gimmicks translate into solid wrestling matches is fair game, and I’m not sure anyone in any major wrestling promotion has ever been as good at it as Stardust. He did it as Cody Rhodes for the first half of the year, and when debuting as Stardust he completely revamped his pacing, his offensive moves (along wiht the names of those moves), his selling, and even how he uses the ropes; he went from Disaster Kicks to Falling Stars, but never abandoned what connected Cody Rhodes to the audience in the first place. The absence of any one truly great match in 2014 hurts Stardust a bit, but I don’t think any reasonable person can look at what he did in any match he had in 2014 and not be impressed.

Brandon Bosh: It’s easy to point out the unheralded brilliance of Cody Rhodes’ character work as Stardust – the roving eyes, the subtle mannerisms, the not-entirely-deserved effort to breathe life into ill-considered dialogue – but it’s just as important to recognize that Rhodes brought the same commitment to his matches while adorned in that now-iconic face paint. As Stardust, Cody prowled around the ring like a particularly flamboyant tiger, but he never played the role purely for laughs; on the few occasions that he was allowed to show aggression, he brought it in spades, begging the question of how, exactly, he wound up relegated to job patrol and comic relief. For the fourth or fifth time in his career, Cody Rhodes took a potentially disastrous gimmick and rendered it a success on virtually every level, even going so far as to shake up his moveset with a litany of new maneuvers. It’s a shame that WWE failed to see the latent potential of the act, and that the fans, having been conditioned to dismiss anything ambitious or unusual, never gave the bastard a fair shake.

Nick Ahlhelm: Cody Rhodes is a guy that deserved a huge push back in 2013, but as 2014 kicked off he seemed anywhere but there. But as his tag team partnership with Goldust looked like it would near an end, he instead transformed into Stardust and re-created himself yet again. His in-ring style completely changed, but Rhodes continued to be the consistently great mat warrior he’s been for years. With his metamorphosis now complete, hopefully Stardust can take his weirdness somewhere his brother never could: straight to the WWE Championship.

Brad Canze: If Cody Rhodes is not an 8-time WWE Champion by 2017 the anti-Rhodes bias of the WWE is confirmed irrefutably.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
27. Drew Gulak
Points: 2903
Ballots: 36
Highest Vote Received: 2nd Place (Drew Cordeiro, Samuel DiMascio, Dylan Hales)
Last Year's Placement: 27th Place

TH: I've heard the big knock on Gulak is that he doesn't have "charisma," which I think is bullshit. Even ignoring the character stuff, which is not what the TWB 100 is set out to measure, he was able to show tons of personality in the ring through facial expressions and changes in tempo. While these traits were not as demonstrative as they were in 2012, when he worked a faux-Incredible Hulk gimmick for Beyond Wrestling, they were noticeable enough to rebut claims that he was this dry sandpaper wrestler who did nothing but trade wristlocks. Besides, he was in the best comedy match of the year, if not the last five years, at King of Trios, and he didn't stick out like a sore thumb. But enough about disproving what was wrong with Gulak, how about what he did right? The man helped take the grappling arts to the next level and then some, turning in some fantastic bouts with wrestlers like Green Ant and Timothy Thatcher. Gulak represented the hard grapple style well in 2014, well enough to earn himself a top ten vote here.

Dave Kincannon: I probably don’t need to tell you that Drew Gulak is a great technical wrestler. I think that fact is probably well known to most people who watch any amount of independent wrestling, whether it be PWG, CZW, Beyond, Evolve or any other number of indies in North America. I think that he’s also more entertaining and has more charisma than some people give him credit for.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
26. Kyle O'Reilly
Points: 3086
Ballots: 38
Highest Vote Received: 4th Place (Charles Humphreys)
Last Year's Placement: 44th Place

Julio del Aguila: Break out year for him as well! Not just as part of reDRagon but also as a solo competitor! Really enjoy watching him wrestle and how he mixes up styles.

Joshua Browns: if you're talking about the best American/Canadian tag teams, reDRagon is the only other team even in the conversation with the Bucks.

Joey Splashwater: 2014 was a breakout year for Kyle O'Reilly. The reDRagon tag team member was a part of the incredible series of matches with the Young Bucks in ROH and they added the most consistently great matches in ROH as a team. O'Reilly would also excel in singles matches especially one in Milwaukee vs. AJ Styles. The Canadian native would win the PWG title in 2014. Imagine how difficult it must be to excel as a singles babyface champion and top tier tag team heel at the same time in different promotions while completely killing it in both worlds.

Niel Jacoby: Not only did Kyle O'Reilly put on some of the best tag team matches of the year in ROH and NJPW, he showed he's got the makings of a singles star too, with his championship run in PWG and great singles matches in ROH, including a stellar bout with AJ Styles on ROH TV.

Martin Bentley: Previously somewhat overshadowed by former Future Shock partner Adam Cole, 2014 was when Kyle O'Reilly stepped into the spotlight in two different ways, both on top of PWG as its champion, and as part of one of North America's best tag teams in reDRagon with Bobby Fish. O'Reilly proved himself versatile and a main-event player in whatever role he was put in, gaining incredible international exposure, and leading to worldwide opportunities that he's taken major advantage of.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
25. Finn Bálor
Points: 3152
Ballots: 42
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (CJ Fleck, Andrew Hewitt)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Dave Kincannon: The former Prince Devitt’s 2014 was a divided one. The first half of the year was spent in Europe and (primarily) Japan, where he was considered one of the top wrestlers in the world. For purposes of the TWB 100, however, his 2014 started in October. After having been signed to NXT and training at the performance center for approximately four months, the newly christened Finn Bálor made his debut in October, and it didn’t take long to realize that he hadn’t lost a step in the transition to NXT. His tag team matches with Hideo Itami against the likes of the Ascension and his brief feud with Tyson Kidd showed that Finn Bálor is still one of the best in the world.

Joshua Browns: Bálor's spot on the list is damaged by the long break between leaving NJPW and debuting in NXT, as well as the fact that he didn't get a lot of time to shine as a singles wrestler early on after his NXT debut, but he could easily be headlining WrestleMania within a year or two.

Ryan Foster: There’s a line of prophecy in Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune “He shall know your ways as if born to them.” While Herbert was referring to a space desert messiah rather than an Irish professional wrestler, it’s easy to see why Fergal Devitt’s seamless transformation into NXT’s Finn Bálor evoked memories of that line. Devitt took what he learned on the independent scene and Japan and burst into NXT seemingly fully formed, with a seemingly perfect conception of character and match dynamics. His position on my list may be a bit of a cheat – he came back to the US at the end of 2014 and didn’t really have a great match to his name in that year – but the potential speaks volumes. As much as I love watching Bálor work in NXT, he could be getting reactions out of 30,000-seat arenas next week if given the chance.

Nick Ahlhelm: It’s hard to impact with the impact Finn Bálor made with his NXT debut. Already a huge star in Japan and the UK, his surprise debut to rescue Hideo Itami instantly cemented him with the fans of NXT, many which knew him already. His first body-paint foray in the United States at Takeover: REvolution, instantly made him a fan-favorite. But as one of the best wrestlers in the world before he stepped foot in NXT, Bálor will only break more barriers in his first full year as a WWE talent.

Brad Canze:The former Fergal Devitt lands lower on my list because he didn't truly start blowing my mind in NXT until the edge of 2015. This shows the bias of knowing he was great in his late NJPW run but not watching much of it. As it stands, Devitt is your wins the Most Likely To Succeed yearbook reward out of all the people currently in NXT. The dude has enough talent and charisma for eleven Alexes Riley.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
24. Goldust
Points: 3163
Ballots: 47
Highest Vote Received: 13th Place (Joshua Browns)
Last Year's Placement: 9th Place

TH: Goldust was a pure victim of lack of opportunity, which is a shame because the end of his 2013 portended something really special from ol' Dustin Rhodes this past year. However, in his limited reps, he was able to show his wily skill that seems to be improving with age. Goldust is wrestling's Benjamin Button.

Rene Sanchez: Another man who surprises me with his ability at his age, Goldust helped carry the Tag Team division in the WWE for pretty much all of 2014. He can take the punishment in a match or come out of the hot tag on absolute fire, he can dive off or through the ropes, and he can perform one of the most challenging finishers in the WWE (the lift and twist cutter thing… I’m sure that is the technical term). Goldust defies logic with his great performance in the ring in 2014.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
23. AJ Styles
Points: 3179
Ballots: 38
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Alex Torres, Chris Harrington, Chris Zinn, Kris Zellner)
Last Year's Placement: 46th Place

TH: AJ Styles spent a lot of time in Japan out of the TWB 100's purview, but it's hard to discount what he did when he was in the States. He not only wrestled in some fine matches in ROH, but in other indies as well, making the most of his limited tours at home.

Joshua Browns: Styles is another guy I'm not a huge fan of, but he is pretty amazing in the ring. If I was including matches outside of the US/Canada, he's easily top 3.

Joey Splashwater: AJ Styles would be my #1 or #2 if we were factoring in Japan matches but even for just his American body of work, he had a phenomenal (WORDPLAY!) year. Styles rejuvenated his career and had many great matches in ROH that led to a lot more success for Ring of Honor after he started working dates. The matches with Chris Hero, Kyle O'Reilly, Hanson and Michael Elgin stand out among my favorites.

Niel Jacoby: AJ spent all of 2014 showing that he could thrive outside of TNA, winning the IWGP heavyweight title, as well as having stellar matches in ROH, including his great matchup with Kyle O'Reilly on ROH TV. He's still one of the best athletes in the industry, even after a decade of being squandered.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
22. Tyler Breeze
Points: 3190
Ballots: 46
Highest Vote Received: 8th Place (Angelo Castillo, John Henderson, Mat Morgan)
Last Year's Placement: 97th Place

TH: Breeze had an uneven year, but when he was on, he was able to hold his own against wrestlers with better pedigrees. He was the glue that held the titular Fatal Four-Way match at the second Takeover together, and he more than held up his end of the bargain against Sami Zayn in two different matches on the NXT calendar.

Joey O.: "Look everyone, it's Tyler!" Breeze proved himself throughout 2014 in the thick of the NXT title hunt, easily mixing it up with the higher-profile Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd. His angle with noted "uggo" Marcus Louis seems to have been dropped but Breeze is still a key member of the Full Sail regulars in 2015.

Scott Holland: Tyler Breeze cracked my top 10 this year after I somehow left him off altogether in 2013. He’s another fine example of someone who shows he understands character primarily through the way he wrestles, which validates everything else he does. He had outstanding matches with and against Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd throughout the year and was the glue at the center of the insanely memorable Fatal Four Way main event in September. The guy is an absolute joy to watch perform and part of me selfishly hopes he never leaves the NXT universe.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
21. Paige
Points: 3512
Ballots: 49
Highest Vote Received: 4th Place (Chris McDonald)
Last Year's Placement: 22nd Place

Nick Ahlhelm: From an epic battle with Emma at NXT Arrival to her surprise win over AJ Lee on the Raw after Wrestlemania XXX, Paige made her mark on WWE in huge fashion. Arguably the best female talent on the WWE roster, she’s also one of the youngest. With a unique look and the ability to bring her great mat skills to a division sorely in need of respect, Paige offers WWE a chance to truly build an amazing women’s division. She became the backbone of it through the second half of 2014, even if WWE’s storytelling forced her from face to heel back to face again in just eight months.

Brad Canze: Based on the matches that were put forth during the calendar year of 2014 I didn't rank Paige #1 on my list, but I think if she were given the chance, Paige would prove she is the best professional wrestler on the planet.

Martin Bentley: For someone that Kevin Dunn didn't take a liking to, and Live Audio Wrestling wrote off as a failure, the fact that Paige is high up on this list shows up just how blind those people really are. Maybe it's her bright white skin...

Not many wrestlers get to win a championship on their debut, but Paige did just that, and on no less a day than the night after WrestleMania. Sure her initial babyface run saw her flounder a bit, but from when AJ Lee returned in the summer, the gears clicked, and the true Paige we got to know on the independents and in NXT started to come through. She is the main roster's most interesting Diva, its most hard-hitting, and the possessor of the best finishing move of the Divas in the PTO. Heck, although a 2015 achievement, she was credited with saving Total Divas. That's gotta count for something.

Tomorrow is the last group entry, and it includes the best tag team in the world and the highest-rated five-matches-or-fewer entrant, possibly ever.