Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The 2014 TWB 100 Slow Release: #1

Photo via
1. Tomoaki Honma

TH: ...





The best worker of 2014 as voted by YOU
Photo Credit:
1. Sami Zayn
Points: 7349
Ballots: 76
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (TH, David Kincannon, Angelo Castillo, Ryan Kilma, Kevin Held, Kyle Kensing, Joshua Browns, Joey O., Brandon Bosh, Nick Ahlhelm, Erica Molinaro, Brandon Spears, Mat Morgan, Ryan Foster, Brian Heaton, Brandon Kyla, Trey Irby, Scott Holland, Brad Canze, Eamon Paton, Martin Bentley, Brandon Rohwer, Rob Pandola, Joe Ellis, Jesse Powell)
Last Year's Placement: 4th Place

TH: Sami Zayn was the best wrestler in America in 2014. I would say he was the best wrestler in the world, but I didn't watch much of anything from Japan or Mexico or England or wherever, and I get the nagging feeling that at least Shinsuke Nakamura might have made a run at Zayn in total if I had seen enough, but as it stands, Zayn is the best wrestler I had the privilege of watching in 2014, and it wasn't necessarily close, either. At no time during the calendar year did he come out for a match that he didn't put his entire back into. He was given the keys to the kingdom and yet wrestled each match like he was trying to get noticed by people who'd already loved him to death. This opposite of complacency made him must-see no matter whether he was schlepping against Titus O'Neil in a story-driving squash match or going against Adrian Neville for all the Tostitos.

Whether it was his lurid, expressive faces, his rag-doll punch-drunkenness, his propensity to take the hugest bump on the card, the stiffness on his moves, or the relative ease at which he pulled off impossibly hard to execute moves like the through-corner tornado DDT, Zayn gave a tutorial on how to be a pro wrestler. The list of awesome matches he had against a diverse variety of opponents is too stunning to discount. I felt his pathos. I got goosebumps at his joy. As Sami Zayn went, so did I, and the mark of a great wrestler is that the fans feel what that character is also going through. While he was awesome on promos, he emoted himself the best through his struggles between the bells, and for that, Sami Zayn gets my #1 vote on my TWB 100 ballot for 2014.

De O'Brien: From the moment he stepped into the NXT ring, and even before that, we knew Sami Zayn was going to be something special. The goofy, amiable red-headed Canadian with the calm, mellow personality came skanking to the ring and started showing us what we knew he had, but far from resting on his laurels, Zayn decided to prove he was worth every bit of praise showered on him by the fans, his fellow NXT wrestlers, and the NXT performance center staff, having so many good matches with Adrian Neville in 2014 it would be impossible to choose a favorite; but the real testament to his amazing talent came on December 11, when he finally beat Neville to win NXT gold - and then was promptly demolished by his best friend.

Zayn hasn't been seen much since then, and for good reason, but I am almost positive even the mauling by the dreaded French Canadian Murder Bear isn't going to keep him down for long. All I can say is if they do move him up to the main roster, they better damn well be sure they know what they have and not let it go to waste.

If I were writing about a different man, I might close this with "Ole!", but this is Zayn's time, so I'll just say this: Give em hell, Sami.

Dave Kincannon: Sami Zayn was, in my opinion, the best wrestler in North America , and quite possibly the world in 2014. It didn’t matter who he was wrestling or what stipulations the matches had, Sami was great. He competed in singles matches, tag team matches, trios matches, triple threat matches and four way matches, and excelled in all of them. Three matches stand out, though. Sami Zayn and Cesaro combined to have the first great match on the WWE Network at NXT ArRival, which would gain both men and the NXT brand a loyal following. The second match was the fatal four match at the appropriately named NXT Takeover: Fatal Four Way. Zayn, Adrian Neville, Tyler Breeze and Tyson Kidd put on my favorite match of all of 2014, and maybe my favorite fatal four way match of all time. Zayn and Neville then followed that match up with the culmination of Sami Zayn’s year (plus) long story. It’s not just that Sami Zayn is a great wrestler. It’s that he’s probably the purest good guy that the WWE has seen in years. While the fatal four way match was my favorite match of the year, the moment that Sami Zayn decided not to take a shortcut to win the NXT title was my favorite moment in all of wrestling in 2014. Thank you for everything that you did for wrestling in 2014, Sami, and I can’t wait to see what you give us through the rest of 2015.

James Girouard: Sami Zayn is my favorite wrestler. And he had my favorite match of the year in his NXT R Evolution match with Adrian Neville. But Zayn finishing second in my poll was more than just that one match - it was everything from his lights-out "respect" showdown with Cesaro to his carry job of Tyler Breeze on the next NXT special that illustrated that Sami's ready to be a player on the main roster.

Julio del Aguila: The best in ring storyteller around. His facial expressions, mannerisms and emotion draw you into all of his matches.

Joshua Browns: I'll be honest, I tried repeatedly to talk myself out of this choice. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger Sami Zayn fan than me, so I was worried this was a "heart" pick, but try as I might, I couldn't find a way to choose anybody else.

Nobody in North America had a better 2014 from start to finish than Zayn. The guy is easily top-5 in all of the technical categories that go into a great match (size and variety of moveset, workrate, bumping, selling, etc.), and yet what sets Sami apart is his ability to project the character's persona into his in-ring work. Sami's "chase" runs in 2014 (first for Cesaro's respect and then for the NXT title) should be part of the curriculum in a "Babyface 101" class.

Brandon Spears: If Sami Zayn had quit wrestling after his match with Cesaro at NXT Takeover there's a chance that he'd still finish in the top five, as that match was *everything* that I like in my pro wrestling. At one point in this match, Sami dives through the middle turnbuckle at Cesaro only to be met with a vicious uppercut. It’s insane. By itself it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in any match in years. If Cesaro is the best pure athlete in WWE, Zayn is simply the best pure wrestler. His in-ring artistry is limitless, with a moveset that dazzles the crowd week in and week out on NXT.

But what makes Sami my absolute favorite wrestler working today is his ability to conjure an emotion from the crowd whether it's from somebody in the front row to the fans in the back. His facial expressions and exaggerated (in the best possible way) body language during his matches are second to none. Simply put, he is the best.

Ryan Foster: Sami Zayn’s story in 2014 was so important. It let us break free of all the malaise and message board grumbling and just be fans, watching the guy we love and cheer for earn his chance and win the big one. It’s absolutely appropriate that Zayn had the first and last NXT special matches of the year, and more so that they were both instant classics. Even more importantly, Zayn’s story was told mostly in the ring – Zayn didn’t get over through clever promos or backstage brawls, but through the way he wrestles.

Zayn has a perfect understanding of how to get the crowd behind him. He shows weakness at the right time, launches comebacks at the right time. His moves hit when they should hit and miss when they should miss. Many wrestlers know how to tell a story in the ring, but Zayn seems to be communicating directly with the crowd through his actions in the ring. I have no doubt he has the ability to succeed in front of 30,000 fans just as well as 300. Zayn’s wrestling is more exciting, innovative, and just plain fun than anyone else working on the continent right now. And it still doesn’t seem like he’s even close to reaching his potential. Number one and not even close.

Joey O: 2014 was the year that Sami Zayn became my favorite (full-time, currently active) wrestler in the world today. Did he have anything close to a sub-par match at all last year? Every NXT "special" event was made extra-special thanks to Zayn and his peerless storytelling in the ring. Throughout his year-long quest, he squared off against Cesaro, Kidd, Breeze and eventually his close friend Adrian Neville in a true classic match that showcased what pro wrestling can be at its absolute best. The truest, most honorable, ska-punk-lovin' babyface around, Zayn is the centerpiece of NXT and as it becomes more of a "brand," could be the face of Full Sail for a while longer. Ole!

Brandon Bosh: It’s almost reductive to call Sami Zayn the wrestler of the year; for the first time in history, the phrase “sports-entertainer” actually seems apropos, given that Zayn’s journey was almost cinematic in scope. Just look at his crowning moment against Adrian Neville at NXT TakeOver: R-Evolution. That contest wasn’t just the best match of 2014; it was a brilliant and cathartic season finale for one of the year’s finest TV series. Dissect the match, and you’ll find a slew of callbacks to past episodes, including the one where Zayn lost a crucial match via roll-up after Neville somewhat transparently faked an injury. The closing image of that match/episode ranks among the best of the entire year, in part because it conveyed more emotion in a single shot – i.e., Zayn’s blank, incredulous visage – than the WWE writers could articulate in a thousand stilted words.

Over the past 18 months or so, Sami Zayn completed his metamorphosis from a big-hearted, largely mute luchador into something more profound. In a most improbable turn of events, he became the spiritual heir to another schlubby daredevil, the great Mick Foley. Like Foley, he emerged as the uncrowned people’s champion of his generation, reaching out to cynical fans who felt slightly manipulated by the populist ambitions of marquee players: Austin and Rock, Cena and Reigns. Zayn was the best wrestler of 2014 because his world-class wrestling ability became almost secondary (this isn’t the venue for praising his revelatory promos, but you don’t need to hear him talk in order to connect with him). By transcending his former gimmick and embracing a truer version of himself, Zayn became the ultimate exemplar of empathy, a cracked idealist whose jovial demeanor masks a bottomless wellspring of pain and frustration. When Sami Zayn’s heart aches, you feel every twinge.

Still, the TWB 100 is an index of outstanding achivements in pro wrestling, and Sami Zayn wouldn’t be at the top of the list if he hadn’t outshone all of his peers in virtually every aspect of the medium. Zayn consistently delivered in TV main events, but he saved his strongest outings for NXT’s quarterly special events. At Arrival, he battled his archrival and natural foil, Cesaro, for 23 pulse-pounding minutes; at the first TakeOver event, he brought the very best out of the then-underrated Tyler Breeze; and at Fatal 4-Way, he held his own against a show-stealing Breeze, a game Tyson Kidd, and an increasingly desperate Neville. On all three occasions, Zayn put forth a career-defining performance, only to see his goal – vindication, redemption, the elusive NXT Championship – snatched away at the last possible moment. Finally, at R-Evolution, Zayn fulfilled his destiny and overcame the specter of self-doubt, without resorting to the same underhanded tactics as his perennially pragmatic opponent. Sami Zayn’s unforgettable showing at R-Evolution was a rare convergence of all the elements that make wrestling great: a gripping story, a sympathetic hero, and a spellbinding athletic exhibition. No other individual could be the wrestler of the year, because no one else embodied the craft so completely.

Countless wrestlers have been canonized as legends, icons, immortals or metahumans. Only one is a goddamn folk hero.

Nick Ahlhelm: He’s only made one main roster appearance in WWE, but Sami Zayn is easily the most consistent in-ring talent the WWE has today. Though he didn’t pull a single NXT special event win until the end of the year and his rise to NXT champion, no one even comes close to his workrate in the ring. In WWE, he’s developed into a consummate professional inside the ring while becoming a great talker outside it as well. Now if they would just give him some better t-shirts...

Mike Pankowski: Sami Zayn’s road to the top in NXT would not have been so fulfilling had he not shown so much emotion in the ring. His ability to excel in that skill combined with his great selling and his plethora of moves make it a thrill to watch him in action.

Bill DiFilippo: Sami Zayn is a treasure and now that his best friend/chief social rival is in NXT with him he’s only going to get better which is AWESOME.

Erica Molinaro: I had a moment during the Sami Zayn versus Adrian Neville match at R Evolution where I completely lost myself. When Zayn picked up the title to use on Neville, my entire being screamed NO DO IT THE RIGHT WAY! All that mattered was that Zayn became champion by staying true to who he had shown he was over the course of 2014. Knock him down, he gets back up and fights all the harder.

I’m a 30 year old with bills and work and all the adult crap the rest of you have to deal with, but during that match, for that couple minutes, none of that mattered. I was a kid again watching with a wide smile and teary eyes as Zayn tossed the belt and won the NXT title his way. It was the perfect capper to an outstanding 2014 for, in my opinion, the best wrestler in the world.

Chris McDonald: Future WWE Champion. How in the hell do they not have a Zayn vs Neville match at WrestleMania this year (even in the pre-show!) I will never understand. Sami is the guy you grew up with. Your buddy that was in that one band and everyone liked. Sami looks like that guy. He looks like you & me. And that’s what makes him so incredible in the ring. The way he staggers around after getting kicked in the head. His babyface comebacks are the best in the business. There aren’t much better than Sami. I just hope that his best is still yet to come.

Brandon Kyla: Arguing on the internet with anyone that would listen that his gimmick wasn't "stupid". Screaming at the top of my lungs (y'know, in print) that he wasn't "pointless" and "never going to amount to anything." Asking "who cares" when people would point out his blue mask didn't match his blue tights. Watching him grow and grow in his last few years on the indies, then getting signed. Watching his match of the year candidates with Cesaro and Neville and Jack Swagger during his first year.

Ultimately being proven right on December 11, 2014.

...I mean, the rest of 2014 was great too, lets not forget that, I'm just saying, everything was made worth it in December

Scott Holland: I have not missed an episode of NXT since Sami Zayn’s debut, and he’s the epitome of why I get frustrated whenever I find a fellow fan — especially one whose interest in WWE has waned — tells me they don’t watch NXT. He’s so great his monumental title victory over Adrian Neville from R-Evolution Dec. 11 is only my third favorite Zayn match of 2014. At least eight of his single and tag-team matches interspersed in the regular NXT tapings for 2014 are among the best WWE matches of the year — even though there’s many common partners and opponents on the list. The fact he can continue to have compelling matches with and against the same people, building from one to the next, is only one of the reasons he got my top vote, and I’ll be shocked if someone else can knock him from my top spot in 2015.

Brad Canze: Sami Zayn. Oh my god. I mentioned it when I was talking about Sasha Banks a few days ago but I think the most over a wrestler can be is making the audience feel like their victories are our victories, and their losses are our losses. Nobody exemplified that better in 2014 than Sami Zayn. I'm completely aware that I am saying that about the year that saw Daniel Bryan beat all three members of Evolution in one night and celebrated with tens of thousands of screaming emotional fans and Connor and the confetti. The most over a wrestler can be is making an audience feel his victories with him, and feel the losses just as much, and nobody did that better than Sami Zayn.

Obviously we felt for Bryan's losses when he lost his dad, and Connor, and was sidelined from wrestling, but that's real-world, heartbreaking stuff, and putting what happened in-ring front-and-center was the most emphasized criteria TH put forward. Sami Zayn fought, scratched, clawed and made the viewers want to see him succeed for 18 months. Every single match. Every move. Every broken pin attempt where he was so goddamn sure he got it. Every loss where he just looked absolutely heartbroken and defeated after. And then he made it. He got it. He was champion. And it was all taken away so quickly.

It's ironic, because if you dig around you can find statements from 2011-2012 where I said, as much as I loved El Generico, he would never find a place for himself in the WWE system. I guaranteed it. Not only has he proven me wrong, but he's thrived and created a whole new pack of fans for himself. If NXT truly becomes a full-fledged third WWE brand like Triple H wants, it will be on the back of Sami Zayn, the best wrestler in the company. The best wrestler in North America. The best wrestler who won't admit that ska isn't a thing anymore.

Martin Bentley: NXT was the backbone of the WWE Network in its launch year, and Sami Zayn was its most vital part. From the renewal of his feud with Cesaro that kicked the ArRIVAL/Takeover trend off, to making Tyler Breeze a legit competitor, to his emotional battles with Adrian Neville, which concluded in arguably 2014's best match at Takeover: R-Evolution, and Zayn's crowning glory when he became the NXT Champion, though quickly tempered by the arrival of an old friend and enemy. No matter all the valuable pieces that make NXT what it is, Sami Zayn is its heartbeat, and the best professional wrestler of 2014.

Jesse Powell: Go find a Sami Zayn match that doesn't make you feel something. I'll wait here, forever, because you simply can't complete that task. In the last year, Sami Zayn has come to embody the beauty and passion of NXT, and exemplify what WWE can be at its best. His journey from the indies to the mountaintop is something that still gets me emotional. Heck, I wrote a piece for this fine blog about it! Even though that piece was in response to a 2015 match, it still holds true. Sami is pure, straight, hot liquid golden fire in the ring, as if every move is calculated to impart the maximum physical and emotional impact, while seemingly still being utterly spontaneous. Every single match he has gets me excited, and I look forward to what the rest of this year will bring.

And now, the list in its entirety:
  1. Sami Zayn
  2. Seth Rollins
  3. Cesaro
  4. Daniel Bryan
  5. Adrian Neville
  6. Dean Ambrose
  7. Luke Harper
  8. Rusev
  9. Charlotte
  10. Dolph Ziggler
  11. Sasha Banks
  12. Brock Lesnar
  13. John Cena
  14. Tyson Kidd
  15. Bray Wyatt
  16. Matt Jackson
  17. Nick Jackson
  18. Kevin Steen/Owens
  19. Randy Orton
  20. Ricochet/Prince Puma
  21. Paige
  22. Tyler Breeze
  23. AJ Styles
  24. Goldust
  25. Finn Bálor
  26. Kyle O'Reilly
  27. Drew Gulak
  28. Cody Rhodes/Stardust
  29. Bayley
  30. ACH
  31. Roman Reigns
  32. Sheamus
  33. Candice LeRae
  34. Adam Cole
  35. Biff Busick
  36. Hideo Itami
  37. Nikki Bella
  38. Jimmy Uso
  39. Triple H
  40. Jey Uso
  41. Damien Sandow
  42. The Miz
  43. Bobby Fish
  44. Kimber Lee
  45. Jay Briscoe
  46. AJ Lee
  47. Wade Barrett
  48. Big E
  49. Max Smashmaster
  50. Green/Silver Ant
  51. Ashley Remington/Dalton Castle
  52. Eddie Kingston
  53. Chris Hero
  54. Heidi Lovelace
  55. Alberto del Rio/el Patron
  56. Ethan Carter III
  57. Dasher Hatfield
  58. Blaster McMassive
  59. Natalya
  60. Mark Angelosetti
  61. Chuck Taylor
  62. AR Fox
  63. Erick Rowan
  64. Roderick Strong
  65. Rich Swann
  66. Cedric Alexander
  67. Kalisto
  68. John Hennigan/Johnny Mundo
  69. Timothy Thatcher
  70. Jay Lethal
  71. Batista
  72. Pentagon, Jr.
  73. Trevor Lee
  74. Athena
  75. Johnny Gargano
  76. Fire Ant
  77. Jack Swagger
  78. Shinsuke Nakamura
  79. Ryback
  80. Tommaso Ciampa
  81. Juan Francisco de Coronado
  82. Fenix
  83. Michael Elgin
  84. Austin Aries
  85. Mark Briscoe
  86. Eddie "Eddie Edwards" Edwards
  87. Bobby Roode
  88. Sexy Star
  89. Matt Sydal
  90. Davey Vega
  91. Icarus
  92. Tim Donst
  93. Shynron
  94. Becky Lynch
  95. Matt Hardy
  96. Zack Sabre Jr.
  97. Jimmy Jacobs
  98. Kazuchika Okada
  99. Mike Bennett
  100. Jessicka Havok/HAVOK
Thank you for voting, participating, and reading. See you again next year!