Friday, March 18, 2016

The 2015 TWB 100: 26 Through 50

The high flying Angélico leads off today's list
Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
The first week of slow release for the TWB 100 ends with the list getting to 75 percent completion. Everyone but the top 25 will be revealed after today, so why not take a dive and get swimmin' towards the goal, alright?

50. Angélico
Points: 1817
Ballots: 32
Highest Vote: 10th Place (Chris McGibbons, Nick Ahlhelm)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: No one was as reckless with his or her body in wrestling in 2015 as Angélico was. Most people will remember his big dive off Dario Cueto's roof onto the Crew in the Trios Championship finals, and that was an epic, memorable, moment-of-the-year caliber spot. But he was so much more than just that big dive. He was a fearless bumper, and he knew how to weave high spots together into something that resembled a wrestling match rather than a stunt show. Angélico made a huge splash in Lucha Underground and American wrestling altogether last year, and everyone was better for it.

Bill Bicknell: There's a feeling I talk about in wrestling that I jokingly call DAD FEELS in which I become overwhelmingly concerned for a wrestler's safety and well-being. Angélico gave me more of those than any other wrestler this year. He's so much fun to watch but PLEASE DON'T HURT YOURSELF.

Stygimoloch: Some have dismissed Angélico as simply "the guy who dives off Dario Cueto's office", but that does a disservice to his fluidity and nuance as a performer. His tag team work with Jack Evans has been mind-blowing at times, while as the quietly cocky slacker counterpart to the dynamic pairing of Ivelisse and Son of Havoc, he brought a subtle richness to one of Lucha Underground's key storylines.

David Murphy: I know he had other matches and I know they were stellar, but for me Angelico will be forever linked to that magical bit of storytelling that was the trios tourney finals. Sure, people are going to remember "the dive", but that sparkling moment is just a stuntman spot immortalized in Vines and .gifs without the brilliant story that was told beforehand. With it, it is the desperation plunge of a nearly broken man. Also, it's super rad and should be immortalized in .gifs and Vines forever.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
49. Adam Cole (BAYBAY)
Points: 1825
Ballots: 28
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Hayley Erin)
Last Year's Placement: 34th Place

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
48. Timothy Thatcher
Points: 1831
Ballots: 25
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Francis Adu, Kris Zellner, Tanner Teat)
Last Year's Placement: 69th Place (nice)

Joey on Earth: I will admit I went into Timothy Thatcher’s EVOLVE push not wanting to like him. Thatcher reminded me of the boring Drew Gulak on the superficial surface but he turned out to be truly great. The whole catch point/grapplefuck wrestling style is hit or miss to me. Some bores me to tears and others captivate me. Thatcher captivates me and has improved with every performance to become one of the best independent wrestling stars today.

Stygimoloch: A great example of how characterful doesn't have to mean flashy, Timothy Thatcher doesn't necessarily stray from his grounded mat style very often even since his anointing as the face of Evolve, but he makes every big match feel like an event with his intensity and aggression, and his ability to invest a low-key humanity into the subtlest of facial tics or muscle twitches.

Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
47. Johnny Mundo
Points: 1900
Ballots: 30
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Joey on Earth)
Last Year's Placement: 68th Place

TH: It's amazing how much better Mundo was in the confines of LU than he was in WWE. A lot of the sizzle remained, but his LU working patterns were a lot tighter and focused. He wasn't just THE PARKOUR GUY anymore, but a dude who could put together matches with opponents who were probably more his speed than they were in WWE (no knock on either company, to be honest, just stylistic differences). He got even better after his big rudo turn, adding a vicious streak to his big spots which enhanced his matches even more.

Bill Bicknell: One of the real surprises of the year for me was watching the erstwhile John Morrison finally figure it out. He's always been okay to good, but when he turned rudo in Lucha Underground, all the tumblers seemed to click into place. "All Night Long" was his coming out party, where his parkour shenanigans finally made sense for his character and produced one of the best matches in one of the best years of wrestling that I can remember.

Sean Williams: John Morrison was a great professional wrestler with a meh character. Johnny Mundo is a great professional wrestler with a great character, that plays into and feeds into his ring work. He's one of the highlights of Lucha Underground, and was a joy to watch against competitors such as Prince Puma and Alberto el Patron. He's also a gigantic dick in the ring, and I mean that in the best of ways.

Joey on Earth: I’ll be honest. I think Johnny Mundo is kind of a lame ass goof but he was an unbelievable wrestler in 2015. Lucha Underground had a spectacular first season and Mundo was definitely the MVP of the show. They put him against an array of opponents with various styles in many odd gimmick matches and he hit a home run just about every time. Best year of his career.

Stygimoloch: The self-proclaimed ace of Lucha Underground was involved in more of the promotion's best matches in 2015 than almost anyone else; for my money, his ironman bout against Prince Puma is second only to Grave Consequences as LU's best match to date, and if not for Banks/Bayley would have stood as the finest ironman in years. His season-long heel turn may not have been as attention-grabbing as the Fénix/Mil feud or the struggles of the Trios Champions - at least until he threw Alberto through that window - but it was just as compelling, and the archetypal example of the kind of slow burning, character-driven story that makes Lucha Underground so enthralling.

Joshua Browns: I still think there are times when he looks more like he’s dancing than he does like he’s wrestling, but it’s hard to argue that 2015 wasn’t the best year of Johnny’s career. He found a level of viciousness in his heel work with Alberto Del Rio that finally made it look like he really meant what he was doing in the ring, and that’s what needs to continue to be developed – vicious scumbag is a far better persona than “benignly cocky and very talented doormat”.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
46. Drew Galloway
Points: 1904
Ballots: 28
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Rich Fann II)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Joey on Earth: Drew Galloway is quietly one of the best wrestlers in the world. Everyone is aware he’s good but I don’t think most realize just how great he has been since leaving WWE. Galloway had arguably the best PWG match of the year against Mike Bailey and was one of the more entertaining performers in EVOLVE all year. Ben Turpen recently pointed out that Galloway is younger than Roman Reigns and it blew my mind. Galloway is a top five-to-ten performer in the world and he’s just getting better.

Stygimoloch: Perhaps nobody has benefited more from a change of scenery over the last couple of years than Drew Galloway. Whether in TNA, EVOLVE, or any one of the seemingly hundreds of other promotions he popped up in in 2015, he wrestled like a man possessed, bringing intensity and ambition to even the most throwaway of matches.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
45. (Princess) Kimber Lee
Points: 1968
Ballots: 27
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Bill Bicknell)
Last Year's Placement: 44th Place

TH: She's a wrestler! The poster child for intergender wrestling on the indies started out the year controversially in Beyond Wrestling, but as most TWB 100-worthy competitors do, she showed she was more than just an unprotected chair shot and big bump. Her work especially in Chikara was classic babyface stuff. To wit, she spent an entire year building up to being able to suplex Max Smashmaster, which is brilliant, brilliant psychology.

Bill Bicknell: I could talk for days about how important Kimber Lee is as the first woman to hold a top title in a mixed-gender promotion, how much the Rolling Stone article meant, all of that. What's most important to me is that it couldn't have been just anyone; she rose to fill that role this year. Honestly, I didn't see it coming, but she's spent all year redefining the relationship between wrestler and crowd. When I attended CHIKARA's Exit Strategy in Columbus, my youngest daughter Suzie was lucky enough to be her "crown protector" for her match with Jakob Hammermeier, and it's a good thing the camera wasn't on me because tears were almost shooting out of my eyes. Suzie was brought into the ring to dance with her after her match, and one hug later, I knew she'd be a fan for a long time. Wrestling can often make us feel so cynical and stupid, especially about gender, but seeing a little girl light up like that matters so much. Kimber Lee matters so much. I'm going to start crying again if I write any more.

David Kincannon: The first female Grand Champion of Chikara. I don’t think I need to say a whole lot more...but I will. She is the epitome of tough, and can go toe to toe with the biggest and baddest of them all. Her win against Hallowicked at Top Banana is my favorite single moment of 2015.

Frank McCormick: Being the first woman to be a grand champion for a major indie is an astonishing achievement, well deserved by wrestling's own pink and/or purple-haired Princess. Guts, grit, gumption, and grappling got her there, and hopefully it keeps here there for a long reign.

Stygimoloch: Although she was already a solid enough hand this time last year, Kimber Lee improved massively over the course of 2015 to the point where her closing out the year as Chikara Grand Champion despite still being a relative rookie feels entirely earned. She delivered hard on one of the key narrative throughlines to Challenge of the Immortals, and The Kimber Bombs have come into their own as a premier tag team in 2015.

Joshua Browns: I give some extra weight when somebody’s in a match where the finish really “pops” me, and Kim winning the Chikara Grand Championship this year was the top moment like that for me. She just keeps getting better – and she’s so damn tough.

Photo Credit:
44. Uhaa Nation/Apollo Crews
Points: 2072
Ballots: 38
Highest Vote: 14th Place (Henry Casey)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Stygimoloch: It says a lot that despite being saddled with a rather one-dimensional, whitebread character and never quite fully clicking in the ring yet, Apollo Crews' matches in NXT have still tended towards being pretty damn good. The true brilliance of Uhaa Nation may not yet have been unleashed on Full Sail, but he's still acquitted himself well in the time he's been there

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
43. Kyle O'Reilly
Points: 2113
Ballots: 30
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Cam Is Like)
Last Year's Placement: 26th Place

TH: O'Reilly hasn't been my cup of tea until this year. In fact, it was his match vs. Tetsuya Naito at War of the Worlds that made me get him. He's found a way to combine his faux-MMA sensibilities with a better feel for pacing and a sense of humor, which is big in my book.

Photo Credit:
42. Sheamus
Points: 2131
Ballots: 36
Highest Vote: 8th Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year's Placement: 32nd Place

TH: Poor Sheamus is perhaps the most egregious victim of shoddy WWE booking in the last five years total, but he still puts in his hours in the ring. He owned his new "bully" persona and it led to maybe the only good matches Dolph Ziggler had all year post-Mania and contests that actually got Roman Reigns cheered. Okay, maybe that last part's unfair due to booking and all, but hey, those matches on RAW and at TLC were real bangers. Even if his stories were groan-inducing, Sheamus never lacked for effort in the ring, and that's the part that counts.

Frank McCormick: Sheamus might be Exhibit A in "shit character, great wrestler." He's totally irrelevant, no matter how many pushes he gets, because no one can stand "him." But in the actual ring? He's a BEAST. I've often theorized that he must have S&M tendencies, because no one seems to actually enjoy being beaten as much as he does, his milk-white skin the perfect canvas for impressive bruises.

Stygimoloch: It's tough to argue that someone who won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (and along the way became only the second man in history to win each of WWE's three signature non-title accolades) had a bad year. But it's equally tough to deny that the Sheamus of 2015 was not the same man who tore it up with the likes of Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton in such hard-hitting matches a few short years ago. Still, a new look and a heel turn revitalised him somewhat, and although his third WWE Championship reign ultimately came off as nothing but him getting punked out by Roman Reigns at every turn, he certainly put on some fine performances over the course of the year.

Scott Holland: Sheamus should not be overlooked as one of the few people WWE could run against Roman Reigns and get the desired outcome. His championship reign had a legitimacy often lacking in transitional titleholders because the guy can absolutely hold his own against anyone in the company. Oddly, like his inverse, Kalisto, his 2016 prospects depend solely on opponents and opportunities. I could see him landing in the top 10 or the bottom.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
41. Roderick Strong
Points: 2170
Ballots: 31
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Greg Johnson)
Last Year's Placement: 64th Place

TH: Strong's transformation from boring bastion of excess to "PWG Roddy all the time" in Ring of Honor continued in 2015. Despite some missteps (like the Tanahashi match), he pretty much showed why he's considered one of the premiere workers on the indie scene, especially in PWG.

Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
40. Mil Muertes
Points: 2176
Ballots: 31
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Scott Raychel)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: Muertes was the ultimate feast-or-famine worker in LU last year, but his highs were dizzying. One cannot put all the credit for GRAVE CONSEQUENCES or the Death Match at the feet of Fénix. Muertes was great at projecting fear and terror, as well as slowly breaking his character during the matches to help put over his opponent.

Bill Bicknell: "Oh yeah sure they've got Judas Mesias playing a masked e-fed character," Bill said, making dismissive jackoff motions. Oh, how naive I was. GRAVE CONSEQUENCES alone would've been enough, but Mil Muertes rose from the rubble to become one of the most terrifying Big Bads in wrestling today. I still get chills.

Scott Raychel: My most fantasy booked wrestler of 2015 was absolutely Mil Muertes. I just need to see him having ultimate hoss battles with anyone his size. He has an intimidating presence in the ring matched only by Brock Lesnar, and he’s an incredible performer to boot. His Lucha Underground matches with Prince Puma and Fenix, especially Grave Consequences, were some of the best matches of 2015.

Stygimoloch: Even for someone as successful and well-tenured as El Mesías, the Mil Muertes character may be a career high. Of course he had that stunning feud with Fénix including a serious contender for match of the year, anywhere in the world, in Grave Consequences, but perhaps more importantly he managed to infuse what could so easily have been a generic dominant monster gimmick with enough conflict and vulnerability to make his ascension to the throne of Lucha Underground a thrilling rollercoaster rather than a foregone conclusion.

Joshua Browns: Man, that’s a great character, and it’s beautifully played. He’s a classic “less is more” big man in a promotion full of tiny flippy dudes who can bounce off of him and die, and can do just enough wicked-looking shit on offense that he looks like a killer.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
39. Jay Lethal
Points: 2182
Ballots: 33
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Nick Malone)
Last Year's Placement: 70th Place

Sean Williams: I didn't watch a lot of ROH in 2015, but when I did, I was constantly impressed by Jay Lethal, World Champion. He's a guy that I never, ever thought could carry a company, and who did a tremendous job of doing just that with better than ever ringwork and a general attitude in the ring that he was the man. That confidence made him a must see performer for me.

Photo Credit:
38. Baron Corbin
Points: 2235
Ballots: 39
Highest Vote: 8th Place (Andrew Smith)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Jamie Girouard: Corbin is the most improved wrestler in NXT by a mile, as he's figured out how to play his role. From Takeover: Brooklyn through the end of the year, you could argue he was one of the top-five wrestlers in the brand.

Sean Williams: The WWE Performance Center doesn't really exist for the Sami Zayns and Kevin Owens of the world. It exists to take guys like Corbin, new to the wrestling world but laden with potential, to the next level in their new profession. Once Corbin found his natural fit as a heel bitter at the internet darlings of the world, everything clicked. He's an excellent bully, much better than he ever was as Goldberg Jr. And while it's not hard to have good matches against the likes of Samoa Joe and Apollo Crews, Baron's holding up his end. He could be very, very good in the very near future

Stygimoloch: No lie, Baron Corbin telling Apollo Crews he should have stayed in Ring of Honor was my favourite line on any wrestling show in 2015. That is some A1 trolling game. Corbin still isn't always the most motivated wrestler, and his talking segments can seem stilted - but when he's on, he's pitch perfect as NXT's super-deformed, bizarro world parody of Roman Reigns. Working with Rhyno and Samoa Joe has done absolute wonders for him.

Brandon Rohwer: Corbin is a capital example of a wrestler who just needs the right direction to have a fire lit under his ass. His first few matches as the undefeated lone wolf were fun at first, but by the time we got to his Bull Dempsey feud you could hear eyes glazing over. Only after he set out on his “I’m a REAL athlete” crusade against NXT’s indie circuit signees did he fully back up his uber-tough persona with hard hitting in-ring work, peaking with a stellar match against Samoa Joe at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn.

David Murphy: I don't know that anyone understands being a pro-wrestler more than Baron Corbin. He improves with each match, sure, but the way he carries himself, the way he behaves, when the red light is on is someone who is in tune with who he is supposed to be. Also, Corbin's resume, in ring, is much stronger than people realize. His match against Samoa Joe would've been the talk of Brooklyn under different circumstances and the match with He and Rhyno versus American Alpha is criminally under-appreciated at this point. I fear he'll be ignored and treated unfairly by the multitudes of fans who think he's just some football player and not an indy sensation, but Terry Funk was just some football player. Ernie Ladd was just some football player. Wahoo, Dusty, Austin, everyone of them were just some football player. Baron Corbin is pro-wrestling.

Bill DiFilippo: Baron Corbin used to be so insanely lame in every way, shape and form. But then someone realized that he is, like, the perfect heel – a relatively great athlete, a natural asshole, and someone who seems like they can kick the ass of anyone.

Joshua Browns: I’m as surprised as anybody. Until the middle of the year, Corbin looked like his ceiling was a too-soon call-up to the main roster followed by a quick crash. He’s everything you’d expect in a stereotypical WWE developmental bust – a 6’5”+ tattooed former pro athlete who kickstarted his career with a string of mediocre squash matches, but starting with his feud with Rhyno, the guy has shown a slow and steady progression towards having the potential to be something really special. He looks more comfortable in the ring with each match, and he’s gotten the End of Days over as a great finish.

Photo Credit: Mikey Nolan
37. Zack Sabre, Jr.
Points: 2291
Ballots: 28
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Kris Zellner)
Last Year's Placement: 96th Place

TH: I can't wait to immerse myself more into Sabre and his brand of grappling goodness. He's one guy I wished I saw more of in 2015, but what I was able to absorb was the goods. He makes exchanges and counters look so easy.

David Kincannon: Zack Sabre, Jr. is another of the best wrestlers in the world. He knocked it out of the park in PWG this year, and I hope we get more of him in the US in 2016.

Brandon House: I used to not be into Zack Sabre Jr. that much. Then I saw him kick Roderick Strong in the face. Now, I like him a lot.

Joey on Earth: The basis of which I did my rankings for this lowered Zack Sabre Jr. from the #1 spot due to a few of his gems taking place outside North America but he ended up finishing quite high for his PWG and EVOLVE work. Sabre is just money right now and may actually be the coveted “best wrestler in the world” that everyone claims their favorite is. The body of work put out by Sabre is very reminiscent to when Bryan Danielson was dominating the independent wrestling scene. Unbelievable matches against Roderick Strong and Chris Hero makes Sabre a top tier wrestler of 2015.

Stygimoloch: As far as in-ring technique goes, "innovation" often gets particularly associated with high flying, but Zack Sabre Jr proves match after match that there's still plenty of space to explore in more traditional areas too with his updated hybrid of strong style and World of Sport. His character work really grew in 2015, seeing him get a lot more confident in his loveable arsehole persona.

Photo Credit:
36. Tyler Breeze
Points: 2335
Ballots: 38
Highest Vote: 9th Place (Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: 22nd Place

TH: Breeze had one of the most satisfying in-ring series of the first half of the year with Hideo Itami, and then he got to play with Old Man Liger at Takeover: Brooklyn. He was an honorary puroresu junior heavyweight for the year, and he did quite a bit of heavy lifting himself in those matches. Overall, Breeze's year was satisfying to say the least, even if he got forgotten by the RAW roster creative team by the end of the year.

Rich Thomas: Before this year I didn’t like Tyler Breeze. He felt like a low rent version of a character we’ve seen before. This year Tyler Breeze had matches with people who got the best out of his. His feud with Hideo Itami showed a different side of him. He shows anger and temper in the ring that plays so well with his cool model persona.

Jamie Girouard: Criminally underused since coming to the main roster, Breeze made his mark in NXT by having good-to-great matches with everyone he was asked to compete against. The fact he was that good while saddled with an opening match gimmick is even more remarkable.

Joey O.: Look everyone, it's Tyler! Well, on RAW I wish you could look at Tyler right now. While his Main Roster fate might end up being what many feared, his run of great NXT matches continued for much of 2015. Few truly inhabit their characters inside and out of the ring better than Breeze. Plus he will likely go down in the history books as the only WWE superstar to ever face Jushin "Thunder" Liger in a WWE ring and no one can ever delete that selfie from his phone.

Brandon House: Rock solid and destined to be underrated by wrestling fans forever.

Stygimoloch: Even while treading water, as he did for significant stretches of the year, Tyler Breeze continued to integrate his gimmick into his ring work in ever more characterful and interesting ways. His special exhibition match against Jushin Liger may be the most purely fun match any mainstream promotion held in 2015.

Scott Holland: What’s the Zayniac/Jerichoholic equivalent for Tyler Breeze devotees? I don’t have any sort of scale when I vote on these things, but a perfectly named finisher, routinely executed flawlessly, and matching the character and his ring style probably would be worth quite a few points on its own. Unfortunately for those influenced by recency bias the main roster opportunities paled in comparison to what Breeze did in his final NXT stretch, because this dude deserves plenty of attention for his contributions.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
35. Dalton Castle/Ashley Remington
Points: 2441
Ballots: 37
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Courtney Rose)
Last Year's Placement: 51st Place

TH: The fact that the man behind both characters was able to work in two completely different styles with two completely different sets of signature spots, ring styles, and even paces. I don't care what your criteria are for the list, that's damn impressive.

Bill Bicknell: Did anybody have a better breakout year in 2015 than Dalton Castle? The guy went from an interesting indie novelty to one of the best acts in the world in no time flat. And he's so handsome, my stars.

David Kincannon: One of the saving graces for ROH for me in 2015. His work in Chikara will always be appreciated, but the ROH version Dalton Castle may be my favorite in ring character of the year.

Stygimoloch: How good is Dalton Castle? Dalton Castle is this good: he can make Ring of Honor almost tolerable. Whether cutting through RoH's MRA bullshit as The Party Peacock or handing out fruit baskets and finger guns as Smooth Sailin', his charisma and stage presence are off the scale, as is his fantastic timing as both an athlete and a comedian. He's such a special performer, who's so, so good in every aspect of the craft, that it feels utterly criminal that he isn't more widely known.

Joshua Browns: I haven’t actually seen Dalton Castle wrestle yet, but I saw Remington’s spectacular match with Drew Gulak in February at National Pro Wrestling Day, and a solid matchup with Hallowicked at Aniversario in May. The Dalton Castle gimmick has taken off massively, but it’s telling that Castle seems to be getting as much notice for his ring work as he does for his entrances.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
34. Drew Gulak
Points: 2481
Ballots: 36
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Kenn Haspel)
Last Year's Placement: 27th Place

TH: Gulak wore a lot of hats in several different promotions, but he wore them all well. My favorite turn of his was as the "serious" member of the Gentleman's Club, where he still got to do his #grapplefuck thing but also got to show a different side of him, one that played well with Chikara's comedy-friendly atmosphere. Versatility is huge.

David Kincannon: It’s easy to lump Gulak any with all the other technical wrestlers, because he’s one of the best. But that’s not all he’s good at. His work as The Gentleman’s Club’s straight man shows he’s not just a one trick pony.

Brandon House: Watching guys go hold for hold isn't everyone's cup of tea, but Drew Gulak is one of the guys who do the style right. Fun fact: I walked by Drew Gulak three times at King of Trios before I recognized him.

Stygimoloch: Funnily enough, for someone frequently criticised as lacking personality, Drew Gulak's biggest strength in a relatively cool 2015 was his versatility of character. From hamming it up with his brother in CZW, to playing the swaggering straight(ish) man in Chikara's Gentlemen's Club, to pure GRAPPLEFUCKERY in EVOLVE, he threw himself into whatever role he adopted with relish.

Joshua Browns: I really enjoyed Gulak whenever I got to see him this year. He’s quite simply a spectacular technical wrestler. The match he and Ashley Remington had at NPWD was probably the best bell-to-bell singles match I saw live all year, and he even somehow fits into a mostly comedy outfit when he works with the Gentleman’s Club. I’m a little stunned he’s not in Florida yet.

Photo Credit:
33. Daniel Bryan
Points: 2606
Ballots: 38
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Brock Lutefisk)
Last Year's Placement: 4th Place

TH: Last year, Bryan looked like he was going to go back to his old self, but then another injury took him out, one that would ultimately end his career. Yet, in the couple of months he got as a coda, he put on several different standout performances against varied opponents in different styles. Whether it was the car-crash spot-heavy run in the WrestleMania Intercontinental Championship match, the classic WWE main event bout against Roman Reigns at Fast Lane, or the grappling heavy Bryan special everyone has come to love against Dolph Ziggler on RAW, Bryan got to have a quality sendoff, even if the fans at large, including myself, especially myself were not ready to let him go. Bryan finished number one three times on the TWB 100; no one else finished at the top spot more than once, and for good reason. Bryan Danielson is probably the best wrestler to step between the ropes in the last 15 years, arguments against it be damned. Wrestling lost one of its all-time great performers, but at least he left behind a legacy worth treasuring.

David Kincannon: The last time Daniel Bryan will be on this list. A damn shame. He will go down as one of the best in ring competitors ever.

Stygimoloch: Sure, Daniel Bryan may have only wrestled about one and a half matches after his return before going straight back onto the injured list... but c'MON. It's Daniel Bryan. He could've hit one single move all year and still made the list, because he'd have executed that move so damn well, both athletically and emotionally. With his retirement, wrestling has lost undoubtedly one of the finest performers of this generation.

Scott Holland: I will absolutely confess to ranking Daniel Bryan highly on my ballot despite his 2015 consisting almost entirely of the Roman Reigns Fastlane match and WrestleMania 31 Intercontinental title victory, but there is zero shame in that decision. Even with his nagging injuries, by 2015 there wasn’t a fan in the world who expected anything less than Bryan’s best from bell to bell — and Bryan’s best is as good as anyone who ever tried.

Joshua Browns: Yes, I know he only wrestled a tiny handful of matches in 2015 before getting injured and eventually breaking everyone’s spirits. I wouldn’t care if his only match of 2015 had been a 45-second distraction rollup loss to Yoshihiko. He’s Daniel Motherfucking Bryan. He’s going in my top 20. Godspeed, Dragon. Never wrestle again, have lots of adorable babies, run an organic grocery co-op in Seattle and come back every once in a while so we can all chant “YES” and cry.

Photo Credit:
32. Nikki Bella
Points: 2670
Ballots: 41
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Hayley Erin)
Last Year's Placement: 37th Place

TH: I thought the whole "Super Worker Nikki Bella" thing was going to be a gag based off an anomalous performance late in 2013, but she kept building and building upon it until this past year, when she pretty much was the only woman on the RAW roster having consistently great matches on a regular basis. Singles matches? You got it. Multi-wrestler matches? No sweat. Tag matches? Bad layouts couldn't hold back Bella. She maybe had one bad performance (against Sasha Banks, no less!) where it looked like she didn't really give a shit, but looking back, it was one match out of dozens and dozens. The match she had before WrestleMania against Paige was perhaps the best non-NXT women's match of the year, and if it happened at, say, a Takeover event, more people would have been talking about it. She throws a snug, brutal-looking forearm. She knows how to put spots together. And hopefully she'll come back from her injury in 2016 and continue to show that just because a woman was recruited by John Laurinaitis' wolf-eyed tendencies doesn't mean she can't be excellent in the ring.

Photo Credit:
31. Charlotte
Points: 2701
Ballots: 44
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Jesse Dlugosz)
Last Year's Placement: 9th Place

TH: Charlotte's veneer kinda fell off in 2015 after moving from NXT, but she still had enough first-half performances that warrant a slot on my ballot. She worked hard even on house shows, referenced by her instant classic vs. Sasha Banks in Philadelphia. And honestly, while she wasn't top-10 great on RAW, she wasn't terrible either.

Brandon House: I thought Charlotte had the most potential of all the women from NXT (I thought she was "Brock Lesnar-esque") and was worried about her on the main roster, especially when she struggled at first. She's since hit her stride and should have a big year in 2016.

Photo Credit:
30. Emma
Points: 2768
Ballots: 44
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Angelo Castillo)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: Moving back to NXT was a godsend for Emma. She was able to spread her wings and remind everyone how great she could be. Adding a nasty meanstreak to her repertoire did wonders for her as well. She was a great, if temporary, foil for Bayley, and she was the perfect first-time Takeover opponent for Asuka.

Brian Brown: 2015 was the year we met Evil Emma. The dancing Australian started her year by turning on then-friend Bayley and aligning herself with newcomer Dana Brooke. She picked up her biggest win of the year at the TV tapings at NXT Brooklyn by defeating Brooke, Charlotte and Becky Lynch in a Fatal 4 Way. She ended her year with an amazing performance in a losing effort against Asuka to open the Takeover London event in December. Her stock definitely rose in 2015 and with the addition of those swank aviators (which she purchased), her 2016 looks even brighter. Plus check out her cooking show on YouTube!

Bill Bicknell: Dancing Emma is dead; long live Evil Emma, the new face of terror in NXT. Watching her transform from one of the saddest wrestlers into the company into the face of wrestling bitterness has been a delight. Emma was taken for granted after a terrible transition to the "main roster," so I'm glad she's doing better for herself now.

Scott Holland: I could write about Emma a lot of the things I wrote about Paige, as I hope neither gets lost in the Charlotte-Bayley-Becky Lynch-Sasha Banks shuffle. Her vicious wrestling wonderfully matches her character’s mean streak, and WWE needs legitimate villains if its fans are going to invest in the new female heroes.

Brandon Rohwer: It sounds cliché when we say somebody is better as a heel, but taking on the Evil Emma character has given her an extra edge to her in-ring style, making her one of the must-watch stars of the increasingly competitive NXT Women’s Division.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
29. Chris Hero
Points: 2758
Ballots: 37
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Matthew Hollinger, Joey On Earth, Christopher Zinn)
Last Year's Placement: 53rd Place

TH: Hero seems to be building a legend for himself on his post-NXT indies run, referenced by his three number one votes. I didn't get a chance to see a whole lot of him, but what I did get to catch was good enough to warrant a vote. He brings not only great grappling chops but veteran savvy to a scene that doesn't always have it due to early retirements or WWE/TNA poachings.

Joey on Earth: I voted Chris Hero #1 in my ballot because he was the most impressive in-ring performer of 2015. The thought process behind ranking the talent on my list was more difficult than I expected. Once I factored out storylines, promos, gimmicks and other non-in-ring aspects, I realized Hero was my favorite wrestler of the year with an array of outstanding matches. Hero had standout performances against Zack Sabre Jr., Mike Bailey, Trevor Lee and Timothy Thatcher in both PWG and EVOLVE. I would put three or four Hero matches in my top five favorite independent wrestling matches of 2015. The career of Chris Hero is regarded as one of the best in indie wrestling history but I would go as far to say 2015 was the best year yet for The Knockout Artist.

Stygimoloch: Chris Hero has settled into the role of the American indies' elder statesman so naturally that it's hard to remember a time when he wasn't. From his groundbreaking three-hour charity gauntlet in SMASH to being treated like a LEGIT MURDER GOD whenever he showed up in one of his old stomping grounds like EVOLVE or IWA-MS, Hero's adept at looking like an absolute beast while still being more than willing to put over upcoming talent.

Joshua Browns: Now that we’ve established that a chunky dude wearing a t-shirt can, in fact, be a big-time player in the WWE, can we buy Chris Hero a t-shirt and give him back his WWE contract? Please? Just throw me a bone and give me back the Kings of Wrestling, motherfuckers.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
28. Nick Jackson
Points: 2875
Ballots: 41
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Bob Godfrey)
Last Year's Placement: 17th Place

TH: See my blurb for Matt Jackson, I can't separate the Young Bucks.

Brandon House: But seriously, in some matches the Young Bucks could make you absolutely hate them, and in others make you want to do nothing more than buy every single one of their many, many t-shirts. They can leave you holding your sides in hysterical laughter and they can make you take them deadly seriously. That requires skill, skill the Young Bucks have in abundance.

Joey on Earth: The Young Bucks are always a great time. Fun matches. Superkicks. Meltzer Drivers. Nick is the Indytaker and I will never cross him.

Photo Credit:
27. Kalisto
Points: 2878
Ballots: 47
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Brandon Rohwer)
Last Year's Placement: 67th Place

TH: Kalisto had a few bumps in 2015, but he showed that he could not only replace Rey Mysterio as the resident lucha on WWE TV, he showed signs of one day surpassing him. His match construction is getting to a high level, and his big spots are just jaw dropping. Hopefully, he gets more of a singles run in 2016, because Sin Cara was really holding him back last year.

Scott Holland: Kalisto is so much more than his “spot of the year” from TLC. But damn if that alone isn’t worthy of high, high praise. Dude is primed for a major 2016 if he gets the right opponents and opportunities.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
26. Matt Jackson
Points: 2890
Ballots: 41
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Bob Godfrey)
Last Year's Placement: 16th Place

TH: The Young Bucks are the best tag team since the Steiner Brothers. I repeat. They are the best tag team to be on the scene in 20 years. Do they "disrespect" tradition? Sure, but not all traditions need to be respected. They sold for a little kid. Who the fuck cares? The Meltzer Driver is a fantastic high spot. They spam superkicks? At least 99 percent of them are timely, crisp, and fit into their match narrative. They have a match template that they have pretty much perfected and yet every time they're in the ring, it feels fresh. They work well with any team, whether big or small. They're a hoot to watch live, and they translate well on television. They're one of the few acts that actually isn't hurt by matches going overlong. Trust me, I witnessed two big set-piece matches featuring the Bucks live, and both of them (King of Trios final, WOTW N2 main event) went longer than average. I still enjoyed the hell out of both of them. I hate that wrestlers become battlegrounds for deeply personal debate rather than wrestlers, especially when they're as important as the Brothers Jackson. They're already appreciated right now, but they may not be fully appreciated until after they retire, and that will be too goddamn late.

Brandon House: It's easy to look at the Young Bucks and think they're nothing but crotch chops, Too Sweets, and t-shirts, but then you'd be overlooking how good at their jobs they are. Last year, they wrestled pretty much everywhere, and they were great everywhere. What makes Matt Jackson better than his brother? The sweet sideburns.

Joey on Earth: The Young Bucks are always a great time. Fun matches. Superkicks. Meltzer Drivers. Matt is my favorite Young Buck.

Stygimoloch: While I enjoy The Young Bucks, they're far from my personal favourites - but I have the feeling that in years to come, they'll be remembered as being among the most influential wrestlers of their generation. Love them or hate them, the Bucks are years ahead of the game and in their own particular way a taste of the future of wrestling. I think my favourite thing about The Young Bucks is the fact that so many fans truly despise them, and not just the characters but the performers behind them. Which may sound like a dick thing to say, but it's not schadenfreude, I swear. Like Mike Quackenbush or Sanshiro Takagi, they're exploring wrestling as a subversive, postmodern art. It just happens that in their case, it's through the lens of working the fans.

Joshua Browns: Yeah, I’m cheating and putting the Bucks back-to-back so I can talk about them as a unit, big whoop, wanna fight about it? I still have an incredibly difficult time figuring out what’s so “divisive” about the Young Bucks. “You either love them or you hate them” is probably the phrase used most often to describe how people feel about these guys, and I just don’t get it. I’ve never understood people who complain when a wrestler uses a move that another guy used as a finisher as a transitional move. It’s not “cheapening” the move for the older wrestler – nobody thinks any less of Jake Roberts’ DDT or Sweet Chin Music because the DDT doesn’t necessarily end matches anymore, or because the Bucks spam a bunch of superkicks in every match. In fact, you could (and I will) argue that that enhances the mystique of the other wrestler’s move – sure, everybody uses a DDT, but only Jake could throw one like that. So if you take that complaint out of the equation, what the hell is there NOT to like about these guys? They’re genuinely charismatic and funny without nearly any dedicated promo time, their selling (while admittedly a bit over-the-top sometimes) is consistent with the characters they play, and the Meltzer Driver is one of the coolest tag finishes ever. Top 20 EASY, and they’d probably be top 10 if they weren’t in Japan so damn much. Suck it, Cornette.

Monday, the final bulk release will be announced. Then, it's all single entries for the top five, baybay.