Friday, March 20, 2015

The 2014 TWB 100 Slow Release: #80-#61

Ciampa stretches Jay Lethal
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
The TWB 100 plows on, including a WrestleMania main eventer, the highest-ranking NJPW vistor, and a couple of Lucha Underground standouts.

80. Tommaso Ciampa
Points: 970
Ballots: 16
Highest Vote Received: 12th Place (Nick Ahlhelm)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Nick Ahlhelm: Despite injuries pulling him away from the ring, Tommaso Ciampa made Ring of Honor his own in 2014. While he didn’t have any astounding feuds, he consistently went out and put on some of the best performances during every one of his ROH appearances. His high workrate clearly paid off, as he gradually moved up the card as the year continued. His high point of 2014 might have been his kickoff of the Steen Farewell Tour, but it is hard to argue that in the ring, Tommaso looked ready to main event in just about every battle he fought.

Photo Credit:
79. Ryback
Points: 1009
Ballots: 21
Highest Vote Received: 22nd Place (Andrew Hewitt, Samuel DiMascio)
Last Year's Placement: 50th Place

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
78. Shinsuke Nakamura
Points: 1011
Ballots: 13
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Brandon Mars)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Kevin Held: If I'd known we could've included Japanese wrestlers, my email would've consisted of NAKAMURA 50 straight times. That said, I'm assuming we're just counting the couple of times he came to the states. And guess what? Based on only a handful of American appearances, dude was still good enough to be placed ahead of people who live and work in the states. Don't buy that? Go watch him against Kevin Steen from the ROH show.

Joshua Browns: Am I basing this on ONE match in North America? Yes. Yes I am. And it was a pretty damned good match, too. Plus, he's Swagsuke.

Brandon Spears: I feel weird putting the King of Strong Style himself so high on my list considering I have only seen one match of his that he had in North America. But like Brock Lesnar, Shinsuke Nakamura has an in-ring charisma that simply cannot be denied, and that match he had against Kevin Steen was just great and a perfect microcosm of what he brings in a ring overseas in Japan.

Brad Canze: If the TWB 100 encompassed all pro wrestling worldwide, Shinsuke Nakamura would have made my top five. The limitation to North American wrestling limits the sample size of 2014 Nakamura matches, to my knowledge, to two, and I still put him at #20. Shinsuke Nakamura rules. If Nakamura-Kevin Steen happened on any other show besides War Of The Worlds, with that batshit bananas reDRagon-Young Bucks match, it would have been the match of the night in a walk. Just keep kneeing people really hard in the head, Swagsuke. Maybe do it in America more this year. Please. I'm begging you.

Photo Credit:
77. Jack Swagger
Points: 1012
Ballots: 21
Highest Vote Received: 30th Place (James Girouard, Mike Tunison)
Last Year's Placement: 24th Place

Samuel DiMascio: Here we have Amateur Wrestling Hoss. Starting off the year as a member of REAL AMERICANS, WOO! Their match against Sheamus & Christian was one of those matches early in the year that got you excited for professional wrestling 2014. A sick joke. Swagger mixed it up with the other hosses and I can’t think of all too many times that I felt at all disappointed in those situations. Swagger had these tiny, bite-sized matches with Big E that I dug the heck out of. Really thought there was some good stuff in the Rusev series later in the summer. Maybe not a homerun hitter but he is a good TE on a running team. SPORTS REFERENCES!

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
76. Fire Ant
Points: 1048
Ballots: 18
Highest Vote Received: 14th Place (Jeff Stormer)
Last Year's Placement: 81st Place

TH: Fire Ant has been risking himself for the excitement of Chikara crowds for nearly a decade now, and he still finds ways to top what he's done in the past. He's an indispensable member of The Colony, and he works hard in every match. The end of the year saw him add some well-appreciated gravitas to his in-ring work with the stuff at Cibernetico against Soldier Ant.

Dave Kincannon: Fire Ant probably gets overlooked sometimes due to the technical skill that Silver Ant has shown over the past few years, but that is a mistake. Not only is Fire Ant a gifted high flyer who can go on the mat as well, he’s probably one of the most effective wrestlers in the world at playing the “good guy in peril.” It’s amazing to see someone generate so much sympathy and emotion with no facial expressions and very rarely delivering any kind of promo. Fire Ant’s performance in the Colony vs BDK/Soldier Ant match from the Chikara finale was riveting, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
75. Johnny Gargano
Points: 1058
Ballots: 17
Highest Vote Received: 9th Place (Alex Torres)
Last Year's Placement: 28th Place

Dave Kincannon: The Cat’s Pajamas, The Bee's Knees, and the Whole Shebang, All Heart, Johnny Wrestling, a.k.a. Johnny Gargano is not just a man with a lot of nicknames. He’s also a man with a ton of wrestling skill. It doesn’t matter who he’s wrestling, or where, he’s likely to have one of the best matches on the card. In 2014, he had top notch matches with opponents as disparate as Candice LeRae, AJ Styles, Biff Busick and ACH, just to name a few.

Photo Credit: Kelly Kyle
74. Athena
Points: 1073
Ballots: 16
Highest Vote Received: 8th Place (Eamon Paton, Rob Pandola)
Last Year's Placement: 71st Place

TH: Athena came roaring back from injury with a new, George RR Martin-inspired ethic and the same hard-to-the-mat style before she went out. She didn't waste any time getting back to elite levels either. Almost as soon as she returned, she was wrestling in WSU for the chance to be the Champion and putting on matches that demanded a lot out of her and her opponent. Whether against LuFisto, Jewells Malone, Barbi Hayden, or Veda Scott, Athena worked stiff and kept the pace going at a good clip.

Photo Credit: Devin Chen
73. Trevor Lee
Points: 1089
Ballots: 17
Highest Vote Received: 3rd Place (Niel Jacoby)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Niel Jacoby: Trevor Lee is the next big thing. His run in PWG in 2014 showed he can hang with the biggest dogs on the indies, with his match against Chris Hero at Black Cole Sun perfectly capping off the year. Also, his crossbody slam is one of the most physically improbable moves in wrestling and it rules.

Photo via
72. Pentagón, Jr.
Points: 1091
Ballots: 15
Highest Vote Received: 9th Place (Kris Zellner)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Ryan Foster: If this list were based solely on introductory vignettes, Pentagón would be an easy number one based on his adventures travelling to Japan to become an invincible ninja with no fear. Regardless, Pentagón is a highly entertaining luchador with a sadistic aura that fills his matches with a terrifically sinister atmosphere.

Brandon Bosh: One of the forgotten secrets of pro wrestling is that anyone can be a threat. To put it another way, you don’t have to look like Brock Lesnar in order to instill the fear of God in your opponents. And yet, WWE’s selection of terrifying monster heels is painfully predictable. These roles are reserved for legitimate giants in excess of seven feet or 300 pounds, while the rest of the roster is relegated to near-Lilliputian status. Fortunately, some promoters are savvy enough to play against type when casting their killers. That brings me to Lucha Underground’s resident skeleton ninja, Pentagón, Jr.

As one of LU’s breakout stars, Pentagón, Jr. wrestled and carried himself with unrivaled confidence, imbuing his matches with an air of unpredictability, danger, and menace. Ironically, Pentagón’s defining character trait was his crippling insecurity, born of a need to impress his kayfabe father. At times, he deferred to the veteran guidance of another underachieving “Jr.” – Chavo Guerrero – only to suffer a series of difficult losses. Still, Pentagon’s abundant talent and killer instinct couldn’t be suppressed, and so the seeds were sown for a dominant run that could place him high in the 2015 TWB 100. Until then, we’ll reflect on those promising early impressions, most notably his debut effort in a scintillating three-way against Drago and Fenix. Pentagón, Jr. is the rare wrestler of average stature who always seems legitimately dangerous – and not just because he has a skull for a face.

Photo Credit:
71. Batista
Points: 1094
Ballots: 21
Highest Vote Received: 19th Place (Brandon Armstrong)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: Batista's comeback was resisted by many fans including myself, but he rounded into competence quickly. In his short time, he was a vital part of the WrestleMania main event that was worked well if a little overwrought and as the hammer for Evolution in their series of trios matches against The Shield. He didn't stay too long, but what he provided was worth something good.

Scott Holland: Batista is tough to analyze because he didn’t work nearly as much as plenty of people on my ballot, but nearly every match he did have was under the greatest of scrutiny. The story of Batista in 2014 will almost always focus on everything but his bell-to-bell work, but the guy came to play. Even his harshest critics would have to agree he didn’t detract from his main event matches, and anyone giving him an honest shake will acknowledge what he brought to the table. Plus, if you win the Royal Rumble you should almost always make the TWB100, at least in my book.

Samuel DiMascio: Oh yeah, it is the Animal baby. Batista took a lot crap from a lot of people. Points for being in a decent film and then busting hump against Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton at WrestleMania. Oh, and he showed up in that Evolution match against the Shield. Sure, I’m unfair for grading on a curve for a Guardian but I never said I’m a fair person. Hail Drax. Granted, if Vinnie Diesel wrestled at Mania then he’d be ahead

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
70. Jay Lethal
Points: 1096
Ballots: 15
Highest Vote Received: 4th Place (Mat Morgan, Ian Riccaboni)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Joey Splashwater: I had Jay Lethal in my top 10 because he's taken his game to another level and has elevated a midcard title in 2014. With the WWE and TNA mid-card titles meaning as much as a Roger Goodell apology, Lethal somehow made the ROH TV title a more credible belt than the once idolized ROH World title with memorable matches.

Jay found so many different ways to put out great performances in difficult scenarios. His 30 time limit draw with ACH was amazing and one of the best matches all year. An early elimination in a tremendous Champions vs. All Stars showed his range as the way he sold it added to the overall story of the match. Hell, he even had a great cage match with Matt Taven. Who the hell has good matches this millennium? Jay Lethal - that's who.

Mat Morgan: He went from being the guy who I mostly felt had his peak when he was imitating the greatest heels of the eighties to carrying on the spirit of those heels as TV champ in Ring of Honor. In a promotion that increasingly feels like it's overpopulated with guys who took a wrong turn looking for an open casting call for some FX drama, Jay Lethal became the one guy whose matches I would never skip. I love heel champions that can project strength and weakness at the same time; they can wrestle, and they can beat anyone, but at the same time they're total weasels and it feels like the people chasing them should rightly take the belt, and yet it never happens. Even the Lethal Injection, a move that I previously couldn't stand, is now a thing that makes perfect sense. Of COURSE heel Jay Lethal would think that he's so awesome that he can end matches with a move that takes like ten seconds to set-up, complete with telegraphing that he's going to hit it with his back to his opponent. This is the role he was almost destined to play. Long may he reign.

Photo Credit: Picture Dave
69. Timothy Thatcher
Points: 1128
Ballots: 13
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Devon Hales, Tanner Teat, Samuel DiMascio, Dylan Hales)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: Thatcher has been the West Coast's best kept secret for awhile, so when he came east to wrestle for Beyond, Gabe, and CZW, it was cause for celebration. He won over a good portion of those regular fans in short order as well. Of the big mat guys in 2014, Thatcher was the most rigidly adhered to the ethic. He was going to work his match, whether you liked it or not, but he didn't fall into the trap of repetition. Every single one of his contests were different from the last one, whether against rivals from regular haunts like David Dutra and El Pistolero or guys back east who were more of a match for him like Tracy Williams and Biff Busick. He made the British style feel accessible and at times fun even if his stiff upper lip rarely cracked to reveal a smile. Thatcher will be a household name soon enough, but for now, it's time to appreciate what he's done for the indie scene.

Samuel DiMascio: Say hello to the best wrestler in the US of A last year. There are few wrestlers on the planet that by their sheer presence make me want to watch a match but Thatcher fits the bill. He doesn’t just have good matches; he has good matches against seemingly everyone he faces. For Pete’s sake, he put on a helluva contest with Blue Demon Jr. in some high school in California. That match plays into his case for him as my #1. Not only was he spearheading a matwork based indie wrestling revolution (okay, slight hyperbole on the revolution) but he could change it up when necessary, such as being a stooge in front of a crowd that came to see the lucha star. Throw in some more under-heralded stuff against Dave Dutra and Dalton Castle and he has some sneaky depth. Probably should throw in that he had a quality bout with Dalton Castle in front of a vile crowd. Obviously though he tops my list for the old school type matches he was delivering throughout the year in the WWN Universe and Beyond Wrestling. Yep, typing WWN Universe stings a little. His matches with Gulak, Busick, and Sabre were all top notch with a couple of them making my top ten list for MOTY. While the difference between him and Gulak or Busick was admittedly relatively thin, his batting average for good stuff to matches filmed is stellar and I’m a sucker for a wrestler who can work in a variety of wrestling climates. Plus, I thought his 2013 was mainly hampered by the lack of opportunities to have near locks for great matches. In 2014, he finally got those chances.

Photo Credit: El Rey
68. John Hennigan/Johnny Mundo
Points: 1140
Ballots: 18
Highest Vote Received: 6th Place (Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

Joshua Browns: Speaking of me being a sucker for high-flyers, I stayed on the "John Morrison is going to get better one of these days" bandwagon for way too long before he left the WWE, so it's comforting to see him excelling in Lucha Underground. He'll never be a guy that can carry a company, but he's definitely a lot more fun to watch than he used to be, and had a couple of really spectacular matches on LU near the end of the year.

Brad Canze: WWE's formulaic, play-to-the-nosebleeds-but-smile-for-the-hard-camera style of wrestling stifles a lot of wrestling talent that could otherwise be way better, and nobody is a better example of that than Johnny Mundo. As John Morrison he was a furry coat and abs and a wind machine and a bunch of moves that never landed or excited the crowd. Then he took off and spent a few years as Former WWE Star John Hennigan, wrestling longer, different matches between designing workout DVDs and making direct-to-video versions of Dwayne Johnson movies. Then last year he showed up at Lucha Underground, and he was polished, motivated, and was exciting to watch, which is a description I never used for John Morrison before. It's 2015 and one of the most exciting wrestlers on TV is John Morrison. Wrestling is crazy.

Photo Credit:
67. Kalisto
Points: 1150
Ballots: 23
Highest Vote Received: 18th Place (Brandon Bosh)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: Some of the things this guy can do defy all rational expectation. He spent the entire year chained to inferior tag partners and against sluggish foes, and yet he was able to give a flash of what he is capable of achieving through those truncated showcases. If Kalisto doesn't replace Rey Mysterio's cachet in the company, then someone else did something wrong.

Joshua Browns: If someone you know doesn't like tiny flippy guys, set them straight.

Scott Holland: That Kalisto cracked the top 100, while his Lucha Dragons tag team partner did not, reflects well on how his individual performance leapt off the screen. That’s a compliment to both his singles potential as well as his understanding of what makes an entertaining tag team encounter. While the general sense is WWE brass simply want someone to fill the Rey Mysterio void, it’s clear Kalisto can stand on his own as a character and performer.

Brad Canze: I never watched much of Samuray Del Sol on the indies, so when he debuted as Kalisto in NXT I was basically coming in cold to this guy. The moment I saw him in NXT and he hit that no-hands flip into the ropes I stood up and yelled "THIS GUY IS MY NEW FAVORITE WRESTLER." That immediate reaction has cooled, and I think he needs some more time as a solo act and a new finisher, but he is still always a guy I sit down and watch to see what he's going to do.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
66. Cedric Alexander
Points: 1169
Ballots: 19
Highest Vote Received: 6th Place (Rene Sanchez)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: Alexander represented the North Carolina boys well in 2014, rising through the ranks in Ring of Honor and returning to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla with solid performances all around. His breakneck-paced performance along with Trevor Lee and Andrew Everett at Mystery Vortex II was among the best I've seen all year. However, when he was called upon to slow it down and work more traditionally, he could do that with equal ability.

Rene Sanchez: Cedric Alexander is a compact ball of sheer excitement in the ring. He does it all from taking huge bumps (like the back body drop into the apron of the ring at Best In The World), to performing cleanly in the ring, to even telling a good story in the ring when the buildup is there. When Alexander is billed in a match, I immediately get excited, because I know that I will enjoy the hell out of that match when I see it.

Joey Splashwater: In terms of purely in-ring work, Cedric Alexander may have had the most underrated wrestler in 2014. Not many think too much of him as being a top talent and in fact, I've seen his fair share of detractors which boggles my mind. Alexander was one of the bright spots in ROH, PWG and other various indies. With the way things turned out, I wish he got the opportunity to wrestle Okada at the ROH War of the World show as he deserved that spot but things don't always work out. Either way, Cedric was one of my favorites to watch wrestle in 2014.

Photo Credit: Devin Chen
65. Rich Swann
Points: 1189
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote Received: 7th Place (John Rosenberger)
Last Year's Placement: 58th Place

TH: Swann does all the flippy shit that one has come to expect from the legion of young, African-American wrestlers on the indies today, but he does it with the most panache and personality. He isn't all big bumps and somersaults, but he can do those just as well as the others. However, his facial expressions, body language, and chatter in the ring give him something unique to hang his hat upon.

Joey Splashwater: The best thing about Rich Swann's in-ring work is he's so consistent at always delivering but never gets stale - something that is difficult to do these days. Most of the work I've seen of his was in PWG and while I hate how he's been typecasted there (along with ACH and AR Fox), the man continues to find a way to stand out. Swann is a joy to watch wrestle and deserves to be among the next NXT signings. His charisma and skill-set adds to every match he is in.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
64. Roderick Strong
Points: 1241
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote Received: 12th Place (Niel Jacoby)
Last Year's Placement: 100th Place

Photo Credit:
63. Erick Rowan
Points: 1252
Ballots: 26
Highest Vote Received: 11th Place (TJ Hawke)
Last Year's Placement: Not ranked

TH: Rowan progressed a lot in 2014, even if WWE booking left him out to dry at the end of the year with an ill-advised singles push that exposed some of his weaknesses. Still, the flaws he showed in those matches were not enough to drown out his excellent work in tags and trios matches through the first ten or so months of the year. He's got the tools to be a steady hand for years to come.

Nick Ahlhelm: I think Erick Rowan surprised quite a few “smart” fans in 2014. Everyone knew Luke Harper’s workrate and Bray Wyatt was impressive from the day he first debuted Sister Abigail. But Erick Rowan was the big guy in the mask for 2013, with little of note other than his eerie demeanor behind the sheep’s head. 2014 changed that in a big way with impressive performances alongside Harper against The Shield and the Usos. Rowan proved he could hang consistently with some of the best workhorses on the WWE roster at almost every pay-per-view, right through his “freedom” from the Wyatt Family and his subsequent face turn. Besides, anyone with a Christmas photo this amazing deserves to be recognized.

Scott Holland: When the Wyatt Family and Shield were embroiled in a legendary feud, Erick Rowan was the least significant player. However, it’s a high bar to clear to exceed the ring work of the other five guys, and Rowan continued to show not just potential but flashes of polish throughout the year. Remember, he was in the main event of Survivor Series and acquitted himself just fine. TWB100 is supposed to ignore push and promo work factors, and that goes in favor of Rowan, who has just about everything it takes to be a compelling hoss.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
62. AR Fox
Points: 1291
Ballots: 22
Highest Vote Received: 5th Place (Drew Cordeiro)
Last Year's Placement: 30th Place

TH: Fox has always had the penchant for well-placed big moves and bumps that show no regard whatsoever for his own well-being, and in promotions like PWG, he was able to show that free of any contextual advancement of character, especially in tags alongside his partner ACH. However, where he excelled over most of his peers on the indies was in Beyond Wrestling, where he was able to show a nasty streak that added immensely to his already mammoth wrestling talent. It's hard to be such a high-flyer and still work the heel game hard to get good heat, but Fox was able to do it with an almost innate instinct to be able to get under people's skins. The dude is a total package, and he proved it again in 2014.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
61. Chuck Taylor
Points: 1295
Ballots: 21
Highest Vote Received: 5th Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year's Placement: 42nd Place

Frank McCormick: If Colt Cabana is the King of Comedy Wrestling, then Chuck Taylor has to be the Grand Duke. His matches make me smile. He's a cantankerous, child-hating, veteran comedy heel who also happens to be a pretty good wrestler. I love him.

Mike Pankowski: Chuck Taylor is the greatest. He never has an unenjoyable match. He can work a match straight and he can be be a blast in any match that has a comedic side to it. Anyone who can make an invisible hand grenade or a slow motion flip seem like the most devastating attacks possible is great in my book.

Brad Canze: The Kentucky Gentleman is a guy with an extremely diverse arsenal; he does comedy, he's the most unapologetic heel in wrestling, he took a dip into Chikara's Rey De Voladores to prove he can still fly, and dammit he can wrestle. He's a guy I kind of don't ever want to go to WWE, because I want him to just keep being Chuck Taylor.

Monday, the list heads through the midpoint.