|Fénix kicks off today's countdown|
Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Mat Morgan, Stygimoloch, Brandon Kay)
Last Year's Placement: 82nd Place
TH: Honestly, if anyone in Lucha Underground deserves a medal for his performance, it's Fénix. He was clearly the best guy in the company in the ring in 2015, and he made huge splashes in other companies, including Chikara (even if part of it was for letting a bad word slip, oops!). His series against Mil Muertes was some of the best wrestling all year. He helped make a casket match Match of the Year worthy. A CASKET MATCH. GRAVE CONSEQUENCES was the best match of the year that didn't involve either Sasha Banks or Bayley, and while Muertes carried his own weight in it, a lot of that was because of Fénix's unbridled fire, his fearless bumping, and his big, moment-appropriate spots. And the funny thing is they tried and almost topped that with the Death Match later on in the year. Unlike Muertes, Fénix had several awesome matches with other opponents as well, both in LU and Chikara. I can't say enough great things about Fénix, and hopefully, he makes more rounds in 2016 because he's a guy that you have to see wrestle as many times as you can.
Bill Bicknell: Even if it all goes to hell in a few years and Lucha Underground is inexplicably giving nostalgia pop title runs to Carlito and Santino Marella, Fénix vs. Mil Muertes will remain Lucha Underground's enduring contribution to the art of wrestling. It's just that good.
Elliot Imes: In 2015 he was the only guy to seriously take on Mil Muertes. Their Grave Consequences match saw Fenix bloodied, with a ripped-up mask, still taking it to Mil with everything he had. It was breathtaking.
Mat Morgan: For my money there was only one match that might have been better than Fenix vs. Mil Muertes: Grave Consequences, and even then it's close. I had the good fortune of seeing him live at King of Trios, where his trio arguably had the match of the night on all three nights, a feat that I don't know if any other team in Trios history can claim. Amazing wrestler. Amazing hugger (damn right, you're jealous).
Brandon House: Lucha Underground kinda came out of nowhere and blew all our minds, huh? Of the main luchadores from Lucha Underground to really get popular, Fenix was the best of the lot. He's not as flippy as some guys, but he does things that are damn amazing. He walks the ropes with the same ease people walk down sidewalks. I have to look down at my feet just to make sure I don't trip on the stairs. Life's just not fair.
Joey on Earth: The rise of Lucha Underground in 2015 introduced us to many great luchadors and Fenix was the best. Everyone understandably puts over Pentagon and Prince Puma as the stars of the show but Fenix stole the first season with outstanding matches on a weekly basis, especially against Mil Muertes.
Stygimoloch: Fénix is my sleeper favourite of 2015. When I was putting together my ballot, he initially started out a fair bit lower. But every time I thought about his matches, particularly in terms of how much I enjoyed them relative to other people's, he crept up a bit... and up again... until he ended up sitting at #2 in my rankings. The frankly ridiculous things his body can do turn every match he's in into one long highlight reel without sacrificing narrative structure, whether in AAA, PWG and Chikara guest slots, or Lucha Underground. But what really sealed him as arguably the key character in the latter company is the depth of his character, and the grace with which he presents it. Hubristically flawed but trying to transcend himself; despite being based around the mythical firebird of a thousand lives, Fénix represents the human heart of Lucha Underground.
Joshua Browns: While I am a dedicated member of the Chikarmy, I’m not Mike Quackenbush, so I don’t have to deduct any points from Fenix’s score for dropping the F-bomb at King of Trios. Between what I saw from this guy live at KoT, multiple great matches at BOLA and his Lucha Underground run (‘Grave Consequences’ – HOLY SHIT), Fenix has the potential to be the next big-time flyer on a national level. He’s not quite as smooth as a guy like Ricochet, and he doesn’t go in as much for crazy “innovation” spots like Aerostar or Jack Evans, but he sells better than any of those guys, and his corkscrew plancha is a thing of beauty. If LU wanted to build Season 2 entirely around Fenix chasing Mil Muertes for the Lucha Underground title, I’d be totally OK with that.(NOTE FROM JOSH - I totally wrote that last sentence before Episode 8 of season 2 aired, I swear!)
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Charles Humphreys)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Kingston has been sort of this groan-inducing guy up until this year, when he found new life with the New Day team. It was almost like being with such a hot act made him up his game in the ring too. He has a better sense of focus, is snugger with his moves, and has improved his pacing by leaps and bounds.
Bill Bicknell: If they did nothing else right in 2015, let it be known that it was finally the year when they realized that the best way to make Kofi Kingston matter was to cast off everything that made him Kofi Kingston. Kingston probably gets overlooked a bit, but to me, he's always anchored The New Day, providing a good counterbalance to Woods's goofiness and E's power.
Brandon House: I was so afraid for the New Day at the beginning of the year, and was sure they would be out of the company by this year. I'm so happy to be wrong. Being part of the New Day has completely reinvigorated Kofi and made him far more interesting than he was as a solo good guy.
Stygimoloch: Kofi Kingston has been visibly revitalised with the advent of The New Day. He's a veteran in WWE by this point, and in 2015 it finally felt like he was able to fully demonstrate that.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 12th Place (Scott Raychel)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Jordan went from milquetoast PC guy to elite tag team worker in less than a year thanks to his renewed vigor teaming with Chad Gable. In addition to providing muscle for the team and throwing some great suplexes, Jordan has become one of the most effective hot tags in the entire WWE if not world.
David Kincannon: Before he found Chad Gable, I kinda thought Jason Jordan was boring. I knew people who liked him and were rooting for him to find a spot that was his in NXT, but I didn't get it. Since forming American Alpha, though, I've seen the light. He's great...especially at throwing suplexes.
Elliot Imes: Not only is he an awesome hot tag, but he seems like a genuinely awesome dude who can barely comprehend that he's getting to be a wrestler, let alone be a part of a tag team that's catching fire. That will never not be charming.
Chris Gibbons: Though Gable got all the attention in American Alpha right away, Jason Jordan quickly became his peer. The way he throws suplexes with ease is a thing of beauty, and he’s probably the best hot tag out there.
Joey O. My wife and I attended an NXT house show while on vacation in Orlando last fall. The main event was a Survivor Series-style match and the #1 moment I remember from it was Jordan tossing around his opponents with ease using three different types of suplexes in a row.
Brandon House: Chad Gable's counterpart, Jason Jordan owes a lot to his partner. Jordan goes from aimless to part of the hotest team in NXT. He's crazy explosive and the way he throws dudes with his suplexes is so pretty. His dropkick is one of the dopest in wrestling.
Stygimoloch: As athletically impressive as Chad Gable is, his tag team partner is something else entirely. Jason Jordan is the kind of guy I just want to see wrestle an endless stream of opponents, to see what new things he does. He feels like a throwback to the days of Dean Malenko and Curt Hennig, but with a contemporary lucharesu-esque flair.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Jeff Stormer)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Asuka really wasted no time upon getting into NXT. Her entrance was similar to Hideo Itami's in 2014, but unlike the former KENTA, she earned my vote with two outstanding matches at Takeover: Respect and Takeover: London against Dana Brooke and Emma respectively. Her furious offensive attack is just so fun to watch. She should get a hard look for top five votes in 2016 if she continues on this arc.
Elliot Imes: With only four months of active competition in NXT, Asuka still won me over big time. When a wrestler is actually terrifying and you're sure that they could kill you if they felt like it, that's how you believe them as a threat. Asuka is a walking threat.
Chris Gibbons: I only had fringe knowledge of Kana/Asuka before she hit NXT, but I quickly saw why she was considered one of the best female wrestlers in the world. Asuka’s offense and intensity is unparalleled.
Brandon House: This small Japanese woman is easily the most terrifying being in WWE. That smile marks death. Don't sleep, Asuka's coming. Her competitive matches against Dana Brooks and Emma were really good, and watching her knock out jobbers never gets old to me.
Joshua Browns: Only this low (had her at 35) because she debuted in NXT in October, and I'd never seen her wrestle before then. Any wrestler who can get me to gasp in shock as frequently as this lady does is going to make my list. Her strikes are legit terrifying at times. She’s sooo good at this. I don't know exactly what the plan is going forward, but a long Steamboat/Flair style program with Bayley would suit me just fine.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Angelo Castillo)
Last Year's Placement: 8th Place
TH: Rusev was done dirtier than the average Mike Rowe job in 2015, and yet every time he got a chance to go in the ring, he shone. His series with Cena gets overshadowed by the booking, but Rusev really hung in there with Cena. He made the Dolph Ziggler program tolerable with his matches, and whenever he got a chance to tangle with Kevin Owens or Cesaro, it was an extra-special treat for the fans at home. Rusev is an irrepressible talent and one that if WWE were smart, it would lean on for a decade or more.
Chris Gibbons: He lost steam after losing to Cena at Mania, but he was a consistently entertaining presence no matter how he was booked. He should be a top heel. Rusev udrya, Rusev machka.
David Murphy: Did anyone turn more trash into treasure than Rusev? There are just iconic things you can talk about: his tank entrance, the fish, Dog Ziggler, stealing the monitor and declaring himself TV champ. Rusev might be the most underutilized wrestler in the world, Cesaro included.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year's Placement: 7th Place
TH: Harper was lost in the shuffle a lot in 2015, but whenever he got a chance go to, he made the most of it. He had more of his highlights towards the end of the year when the Wyatt Family was reunited and refocused.
Stygimoloch: While the entire Wyatt Family span in circles for much of 2015 narrative-wise, they still gave their all to what they were given, and Luke Harper in particular turned out a masterful performance whenever he set foot in the ring. Hopefully big things are planned for him in the future, because he's earned them.
Bill DiFilippo: Luke Harper is the best member of the Wyatt family in the ring. At this point, it’s kinda not debatable. He rules.
Joshua Browns: A criminally underappreciated (at least by the guys who are signing his checks) performer. 2015 was particularly bad for a guy who I was hoping would get to break out on his own and show what he can do. It’s not even that he had a bad year in the ring, it’s just that he’s not really getting chances to actually demonstrate what he can do.
|Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein|
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Bob RT, Kris Zellner)
Last Year's Placement: 23rd Place
TH: Many people have said that if the TWB 100 were opened up to accept work from all around the world, Styles would be number one. Even in the confines of America and Canada, Styles showed enough of that prowess to corroborate those claims. I saw him wrestle at least four times live in 2015 and a bunch more on tape, and every time, he was the best guy in the match. He makes transitions look so seamless, almost like they're straight from an action movie. His offense is both crisp and forceful looking. I defy anyone to find a springboard move that looks as forceful as his bouncing flying forearm. The man is a natural when it comes to putting together fantastic matches, regardless of opponent. The biggest testament to his prowess has to be from Final Battle, where he was able to have one of the ten best bouts of the year with a guy I normally find vanilla in Jay Lethal. The man is a miracle worker if I'm talking about his mechanics in the ring.
Elliot Imes: He'll continue to be an asset to the wrestling community. Hold on...the WRESTLING COMMUNITY??
Chris Gibbons: Styles would be a lot higher for me (maybe even number one) if we were counting international work, since his work in New Japan was incredible in 2015. His work in Ring of Honor and the indies was great but didn’t match his work with guys like Okada and Ibushi overseas.
Joshua Browns: I got to see more of AJ's eligible work this year, so he jumps significantly up my ballot in 2015. Now that he’s in WWE full time, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s even higher next year. I had my first opportunity to see AJ wrestle live at King of Trios this past September, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. I’d always imagined AJ as a guy who takes himself a little too seriously, but the way he adapted to both the vibe of the Chikara crowd (not to mention that he was teaming with the Bucks, who are usually a little more tongue-in-cheek) was a remarkable thing to see.
|Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook|
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Keith Campbell)
Last Year's Placement: 72nd Place
TH: While Mr. Cero Miedo was a far better character than worker, he still had his moments in the ring. In addition to having the most bad-ass finisher in all of wrestling, he was able to put together some nice little matches against a variety of opponents on Lucha Underground.
Bill Bicknell: Holy shit, Pentagón Jr. Where do you even begin with this guy? What started as a talented but kind of forgettable bit player evolved into an ARM-BREAKING NINJA SKELETON FURY, the rampaging unchecked id of Lucha Underground. I wasn't as big a fan of the Cero Miedo match as everyone else was, but the build towards it--and the bloody path of broken limbs leading to it--was something to behold.
Elliot Imes: I saw him live this year. He was fifteen feet away from me, and I felt like if I looked at him the wrong way, those eyes would lock with mine, and he would come into the crowd and break both of my arms. Good lord, he is so awesome.
Chris Gibbons: Pentagon Jr. is so great that he made my top 10 largely based on squash matches that became public executions of jobbers’ arms, as well as a match with 48-year-old Vampiro. That’s talent.
Mat Morgan: While I think Fenix was by far the best wrestler in Lucha Underground in 2015, it's hard to argue that anyone but Pentagon Jr. was the best character. The only thing better than seeing a pissed-off ninja skeleton dedicating impending sacrifices to his maestro before the match is, once the match starts and he's started wrecking his opponents with strikes, going "yeah, that's exactly how a pissed-off ninja skeleton is supposed to wrestle."
Brandon House: Fenix might be the best of the Lucha Underground guys, but Pentagon Jr. is the breakout star. Dude walks out and it's zero fear for everyone in earshot. CERO MIEDO!
Scott Raychel: All I know is that every time Pentagon Jr. is on my television screen, I just start clapping and giggling like a small child, so he gets a high rating from me.
David Murphy: Pentagon Jr is a force of nature. Pentagon is an evil man who I fear could convince me to do evil things. He got me excited about a Sexy Star match, for crying out loud. Also, he's really good at every single aspect of pro-wrestling. He may be the most complete wrestler in the world. When I think of 2015, I'll think of a lot of things like Bayley and Sasha and Rusev on a tank, but Pentagon, man, Pentagon might be the one that sticks with me the most. Because it isn't about the classic matches, and he had a few. It's the performer I'll remember.
Joshua Browns: It’s easy to dismiss Pentagon, Jr.’s act as being more about his Lucha Underground persona and that incredible look than it is about great matches, but I think he’s somewhat underrated as a worker. So many of the bigger names in Lucha Underground got the opportunity to have great match after great match on the show, but Pentagon’s story wasn’t about that. It’s not always easy to look like a great wrestler when your on-screen role is to come out week after week and wreck guys like Famous B, but when given the opportunity to have more meaningful matches, Pentagon delivered in a big way, most especially in the Ultima Lucha match with Vampiro. Garbage wrestling isn’t the easiest thing to pull off well, and Pentagon carried a dude who doesn’t really wrestle anymore to one of the best hardcore matches of the year. Top that off with an excellent string of performances at BOLA, and you have a very solid 2015. Plus I just think it’s cool that Pentagon, Jr. has inherited the package piledriver, since he's basically the supernatural, Mexican Kevin Steen anyway.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Ryan Kilma)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Kurt Angle was at his best between 1999 and 2002, when he was a dorky Olympic-influenced wrestler who learned how to do suplexes. If one was to distill that era of Angle, incubate it, and put it into a smaller dude with a pothead oeuvre, you'd get Chad Gable. Gable burst onto the scene in 2015 and immediately began to hit it out of the park. He was not only one of the best technical guys on the NXT roster, but he became one of the best Ricky Mortons with his selling and hitting of all the beats during heat segments in tag matches. This guy can be something big if WWE allows him the avenue.
Elliot Imes: Just seeing Gable harassing Jason Jordan, I didn't think he'd be much in the ring. Goodness gracious, I was wrong. He makes a wristlock look as exciting as a triple moonsault.
Chris Gibbons: It’s hard to put into words how dope Chad Gable is. Wrestling just seems natural to him, like he’s not even thinking about it or trying. Seeing him work fills me with a childlike glee that reminds me why I love wrestling in the first place.
Joey O. Gable went from a guy you might have heard of who was working an amateur wrestling gimmick on NXT house shows to someone you can't take your eyes off in every match he's in. Gable makes your average wristlock more exciting than you could imagine. Technical wrestling hasn't been this energetic on WWE TV since a certain Gold Medalist debuted over 15 years ago. I'm ready, willing and Gable to see how far he and his tag partner can soar in 2016.
Brandon House: No one really knew who Chad Gable was at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year, he and Jason Jordan were getting minutes long chants from crowds overseas. In the ring, Gable's a natural, not unlike Kurt Angle. His Tiger Spin Drop Toe Hold and bridge are both super dope. Expect him to be higher next year.
Stygimoloch: This time last year, NXT's tag division seemed embarrassingly thin for such an otherwise strong show; now, they've an embarrassment of riches to draw on. American Alpha are probably second only to The Vaudevillains as my favourites among a strong division. They have a rare chemistry for a team who haven't been together all that long, and on top of his athletic talent, Chad Gable has an endearingly expressive personality too.
David Murphy: Chad Gable is a delightful weirdo who makes me happy every time I see his dumb face. I don't know if I am ever more disappointed when someone is not on my TV as I am when we get an American Alpha-less NXT. That alone should count for something but also he's an Olympian and a wristlock sorcerer and a perfect face-in-peril. The frightening thing is he's basically a rookie.
Bill DiFilippo: Chad Gable is the dopest fucking wrestler on earth and I will fight you if you disagree. WWE should bring Kurt Angle back to be his, like, mentor or wrestling dad or something. Give me this. I need Chad Gable walking out to “Medal” in the worst way.
Joshua Browns: I’m pretty sure Chad Gable was grown in a lab with the specific purpose of making me clap my hands and giggle like an infant when somebody jingles a set of car keys. A miniature version of prime-era Kurt Angle who throws Ricky Steamboat-quality armdrags and routinely murks guys twice his size? YES PLEASE.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Matthew Hollinger)
Last Year's Placement: 31st Place
TH: If Reigns could emote character the way he worked, he'd be as popular as his former Shield brother, Dean Ambrose. He came into the year with a rep as a shaky hand in the ring. The match with Daniel Bryan at Fast Lane may have seemed anomalous because Bryan could have a great match with a drunk Ted Arcidi. But then he held his own as an underdog with some bite against Brock Lesnar. And then he had one of the better Last Man Standing matches with Big Show of all people the next month. As the matches accrued, defending the talking point of "Reigns can't work" became harder and harder until it was clear that he could go with the best of them. Reigns is never going to win over unanimous support from a given crowd, but he elicits reactions and rarely has a match that is so bad that it warrants inattention. Sure, opinions are opinions, but at the same time, some opinions like the one that Reigns is a net negative between the bells just end up seeming so silly over time.
Elliot Imes: Hey guys, wanna have a conversation about how Reigns is booked? Nope? Okay! When you put all that aside, you're faced with the undeniable truth that Reigns was involved in a high percentage of WWE's best matches last year. Of course, that's because they just want him to look strong OKAY FINE NEVERMIND.
Jamie Girouard: The problem with Roman Reigns is not his in-ring work. While Reigns did have some clunkers this year (I don't need to see him against Big Show ever again) he clearly proved that if you put him in with great workers he can more than hold his own. His sheer quantity of good-to-great matches ranked him pretty highly in my ballot.
Bill DiFilippo: Literally everything that Roman Reigns does from the time the bell rings to start a match to the time a bell rings to end a match is awesome. Well, jacking off his wrist before he Superman Punches someone sucks, but other than that, he rules. Just please, for the love of god, stop trying to make everyone love him.
Joshua Browns: Poor Roman Reigns. Nobody seems to likes Roman Reigns, and nobody seems to notice that Roman Reigns had some awfully damn good matches in 2015. I’m still not a huge fan, but that’s mostly based on persona and mic work now – my concerns about his in-ring work (his FCW run as “Leakee” was some of the worst garbage I’ve ever seen) are largely gone. He still has a tendency to wrestle down to the level of his competition, but if WWE figures out the best way to present him and continues to regularly put him in the ring with top-notch guys, they could turn this guy into a huge star, and not just a second-rate Samoan John Cena.
|Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook|
Highest Vote: 1st Place (David Kincannon)
Last Year's Placement: 20th Place
TH: As Puma in Lucha Underground, he was saddled with being the ace of a major televised promotion, and while others had higher highs than him in the ring, he was a steady rock for several main event matches. No matter what the opponent, from someone suited to his high-spot style of wrestling like Johnny Mundo or a total diametric opposite like Hernandez, Puma made sure that the match he was having was worthy of being in the main event. I wish he'd have made more tape in America as Ricochet, but regardless, even judging by his LU credentials, he was much worthy of a high vote on anyone's TWB 100 ballot, including my own.
Bill Bicknell: Puma was an excellent protagonist to Lucha Underground, a talented and fun high-flyer who's managed to do the unthinkable and make me like at least one Hernandez match. I have no idea where he goes in 2016, but 2015 was a great year for him.
David Kincannon: For me, Ricochet had the best 2015. He was the best wrestler on the best wrestling show on television, Lucha Underground, and his success throughout the indies was just as impressive. When people ask me why I watch wrestling, I talk about the combination of athleticism, showmanship, passion, and sense of drama that my favorite wrestlers combine. I don't think anyone expressed those attributes more than Ricochet did. He does things that I didn't even know were possible, and can barely comprehend without watching multiple times. He can express more with a look and a post-production based growl than a lot of wrestlers can in a 15 minute promo. He's the total package, and I'm glad that he's on my screen on a regular basis.
Elliot Imes: He is so freakishly good at pro wrestling that I think sometimes we take him for granted. The things he can do in the ring are almost unfair. Not only does he have amazing body control in the air, but his strength almost rivals guys like Brian Cage.
Chris Gibbons: Ricochet is one of those dudes that you just watch with your mouth agape and wonder how he does what he’s doing. He’s the king of flippy shit, and it never gets old, whether he’s in Lucha Underground, PWG, EVOLVE, or any other indie show.
Brandon House: I just don't understand how he moves and flips the way he does, and makes it look so easy. He's spectacular and even with him on Lucha Underground almost weekly, I wish I had seen more of his US matches last year.
Stygimoloch: I'd always thought of Ricochet as a great in-ring performer, but not someone I was all that invested in as a character. Under the mask of Prince Puma, however, he proved expressive enough in his eyes and his body language that I hadn't actually realised until a few episodes into Lucha Underground that he'd never spoken. As impressive as so many of his matches were, just as impressive is how effectively he used them to advance the drama and development of the character.
Joshua Browns: The best pure flyer alive right now, or at least a close 1a behind Kota Ibushi. Ricochet can be a bit of an acquired taste – I find his act as part of the Inner City Machine Guns to be a little too silly, and there are times when his stuff can come off as a bit too smooth and rehearsed. I tend to prefer his work as Prince Puma – Lucha Underground works a slower, television style and I think it suits him better.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Brock Lutefisk, Kevin Newburn)
Last Year's Placement: 1st Place
TH: Oh what could have been for Sami Zayn in 2015. Injuries robbed him of a fair shot at retaining his number one slot from last year, but he still did enough from January through May and then in December to warrant a high vote. His match with Kevin Owens at Takeover: Rival was polarizing, but I found it to be a brilliant story and one that WWE and most other companies are afraid to tell in this era of 50/50 booking and keeping everyone looking strong. A huge chunk of that excellence has to be attributed to Zayn's willingness to bump like crazy and his ability to be the best in the world at looking punch-drunk and staggered.
Rich Thomas: Everytime Sami Zayn gets in the ring I stop doing everything and just watch the TV. I can never take my eyes off it.
David Kincannon: Sami Zayn is one of the best wrestlers in the world, if not the best. Unfortunately, his 2015 was marred by injury. That didn't stop him from giving us my favorite John Cena match since SummerSlam 2013.
Elliot Imes: My friends and I were watching PWG the night he had his match with Cena, and when we found out that had just happened, we tripped over ourselves to get to the DVR and see it. Zayn inspires that kind of passionate craziness in people everywhere.
Chris Gibbons: Zayn only really had five months of actual wrestling because of injury and his NXT reign was short-lived, but there’s still no purer babyface in the WWE and his limited appearances, especially his match against John Cena, were as fantastic as ever.
Stygimoloch: His work early in the year was so good that in some parallel universe where he didn't get injured, he was the runaway #1.
Joshua Browns: My #1 vote last year drops down nearly out of the top 10 based solely on the injury that kept him out for most of the second half of the year, but there’s no question that Sami Zayn still has “it”. With the exception of Bayley, absolutely NOBODY connects with a crowd as a face like Sami Zayn. His selling and storytelling are better than 90% of the guys on the “main” roster, and the prospect of a long and bitter Zayn/Owens program is keeping me interested in non-NXT WWE programming at a time when not much else is.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Charles Humphreys)
Last Year's Placement: 49th Place
TH: For whatever godawful reason, WWE decided to deemphasize Big E in 2014 to the point where I forgot how good he could really be. The New Day tag team has been the most entertaining consistent thing about WWE, and most people will attribute the promos and segments. But Big E busting his ass in the ring and showing everyone that it ain't just the indie darlings who make NXT a swell developmental territory. Whether it was working as a heavy during extended heat segments or spearing guys off the apron, E brought his A-game to whatever match he was booked in.
Bill Bicknell: In a just world, we'd be talking about Big E's victory in the 2016 Royal Rumble and his pending title match with, I dunno, Bob Backlund. As it stands, he's a standout member of one of WWE's best tag teamms in years. He's also the Undisputed King of WWE Twitter and I WILL FIGHT YOU ABOUT THIS.
Brandon House: As an African-American, Big E means a lot to me. As a black kid growing up in the 90s, watching WWF, I didn't have many options for heroes that looked like me. It was basically Ahmed Johnson and Rocky Maivia. Looking at Big E, you'd think he's nothing but a big muscular stiff, but nope. He's secretly the best member of The New Day, and all three members of the New Day are pretty dope, so that's high praise.
Stygimoloch: For so long were people wondering why WWE didn't take more advantage of Big E's skills as a comedian. They finally did, and it was glorious. Big E is the glue of The New Day, his chemistry with Kofi Kingston in the ring just as good as his chemistry with Xavier Woods outside it,
Bill DiFilippo: The best thing about Big E is that he seems to get the absurdity of pro wrestling better than anyone, but once the bell rings and he has to be a mega hoss, he locks in and just murders people. He’s quicker/faster/more athletic than any dude who looks like that has any business being, plus his power moves never cease to impress.
Joshua Browns: The New Day gimmick is SO over, and I love that it not only showcases Big E’s truly bizarre sense of humor, but also has allowed him to be more interesting and charismatic in the ring. He’s surprisingly quick and sudden for such a bulky dude, and good for one or two astounding-looking spots every week. It doesn’t have to be super soon (I’m enjoying New Day too much), but I’d love to see E get a chance to show what he can do as a singles wrestler in a "big" way.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Kenn Haspel)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked
TH: Joe looked reinvigorated in 2015, but then again, being released from TNA after nearly a decade of being crushed by Dixie Carter and her merry band of workplace safety violators will do that. While I didn't get to see a ton of his pre-NXT signing work, his stuff from Takeover: Brooklyn forward was top-level match quality. He was the first wrestler who was able to work a decent match with Baron Corbin, and then his work in the Dusty Classic and against the NXT Champion Finn Bálor showed that the old, motivated Joe was back to stay.
Bill Bicknell: Let it be known that 2015 did the unthinkable and made me give a damn about Samoa Joe. Who knew that putting a talented wrestler in a creative environment with structure and a sense of urgency could actually motivate him? My stars.
Elliot Imes: He was so great, even if he was a bit sluggish in some of his matches. It's like how Henry describes Paulie in Goodfellas: "Samoa Joe may have moved slow, but it was only because Joe didn't have to move for nobody."
Chris Gibbons: If you told me at the beginning of last year that Samoa Joe would be one of my top wrestlers out there, I would’ve laughed in your face. Then Joe wrestled Baron Corbin and shorty after became one of the best in the world once again. NXT works wonders.
Brandon House: Samoa Joe makes it in here on the strength of his NXT rebirth. He went from heavy and unmotivated to wrecking dudes like it's 2004. I dig it.
Stygimoloch: Joe is someone who, truthfully, I'd stopped being interested in a long while ago. In NXT he's been magnetic though, toning down the Samoan Submission Machine gimmick just enough to harmonise with the Full Sail atmosphere, and that's made him feel more dangerous than he has in years.
Bill DiFilippo: Every time Samoa Joe does a CCS enzugiri, I gasp because how does someone that large do a CCS enzugiri so easily? I mean come on.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year's Placement: 5th Place
TH: Neville went from decent hand in NXT to must-see high flying bump machine on the RAW roster. The sympathetic underdog with high risk/reward offense oeuvre suited him far better than dominant Champion did, and even though his pushes were start-stop, he never failed to dazzle when he had the chance. His matches with Seth Rollins were probably the best the latter looked all year, and a lot of that had to with the way Neville treated his offense, especially the big Red Arrow counter and Pedigree sequence at the end of the second match.
Bill Bicknell: Neville is the embodiment of making the best of a bad situation--he's had lots of great matches that sadly either lead to nothing or are involved in garbage stories. Leave it to "The Man That Gravity Forgot" to rise abo--*is immediately fired from writing any more entries*
Elliot Imes: He just wants to do amazing things in WWE, and he tries his damnedest every time he's sent out there to do some nonsense. I saw him at that live Smackdown when he was forced to wear an elf hat and tag with Titus O'Neill. And even that wasn't awful, solely thanks to Neville.
Chris Gibbons: His WWE main roster run has been a disappointment compared to what he did in NXT, but that’s no fault of his own. When he’s given the opportunity to shine, he’s possibly the best high flyer alive. The Red Arrow is the best move in wrestling.
Frank McCormick: Neville really does seem like a superhero come to life sometimes. The things he does, the agility he displays, beggar belief. (Sometimes I think he should be searched for performance-enhancing magic rings; you know how tricksy those hobbitses can be!) So of course WWE have had no idea what to do with him, really. And the "WWE style" of "you have a certain set of moves, and you hit them in this order, time after time in matches that don't matter against the same small set of opponents" really hurts a guy like Neville. Too many of his matches became samey and uninteresting, despite the aerial pyrotechnics. And yet... those aerial pyrotechnics are still damn amazing, and when given more time and good partners, Neville has shown he can step it up. Hopefully, once his recent, tragic injury is fully healed, 2016 will be his true breakout year.
Brandon House: Always good for a quality match, watching him flip around is fun even if he doesn't get much time to wrestle.
Stygimoloch: It feels like a broken record, writing these blurbs when it comes to WWE's main roster, that the talents' performances rose above so-so booking. That's perhaps no more apt for anyone than The Man That Gravity Forgot, who despite a complete lack of any kind of meaningful character development could always be relied on to add some excitement.
Joshua Browns: It’s rather telling that I completely neglected Neville as I put together my ballot and had to go back and slot him in about halfway through. From a booking and “company impact” standpoint, 2015 pretty much sucked for Neville, but if you go back and watch his matches, you see a guy who’s still delivering night in and night out, even when they’ve got him in six-man-tags against Stardust and the Ascension. I don’t put Neville in the “pure flyer” category anymore; his mat work and strikes have gotten so freaking good that he’d be a damn good performer without a single spot off the ropes.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Chris Harrington, Joe Drilling)
Last Year's Placement: 6th Place
TH: Ambrose had a rollercoaster year, but for the most part, he was an electric wrestler who kept my attention and kept the crowd engaged. He still showed a penchant for brawling, and his facial expressions in the ring are still the best in WWE.
Elliot Imes: I really could do without that wacky rope bounce clothesline, but everything else he does is money. I can only assume that 2015 wasn't his championship year because they're saving that for 2017. They'd be fools if they're not.
Chris Gibbons: Despite WWE’s best efforts to neuter Ambrose into some zany nonsense character doing bad suicide dives and “wacky clotheslines,” Dean managed to connect with audiences and sell his stories even if the in-ring action.
Frank McCormick: Look, we're all sick of the "Wacky Lariat" or the "Rebound Lariat" or whatever the hell WWE is calling The Nigel this week. Ambrose has the bad, bad habit of kind of phoning it in with the "wacky" stuff. But when he's motivated, he brings an anarchy to the proceedings that adds vigor and freshness sorely needed in the WWE.
Stygimoloch: Although the loose cannon concept hasn't always really worked in practice, Dean Ambrose has the energy and charisma to salvage just about anything. He may be WWE's lowkey in-ring MVP, able to adapt to any opponent, any match type, any card position, and ensure something good will come out of it.
Joe Drilling: I could just copy/paste the several paragraph long blurb I wrote for Ambrose last year, but I suppose I should talk about what he did in 2015. Dean Ambrose was, once again, the best professional wrestler in the world this year in my opinion. This is a man who does not waste a single movement in the ring. Everything he does is in service of whatever narrative he's trying to convey. And beyond that, he works his ass off. I can't think of a match I've seen where I thought "Dean's just phoning it in tonight." He's committed, he's savvy and his execution and timing are impeccable. He also takes some huge bumps, but that's less important to me than just how capable and committed of a storyteller the man is.
Joshua Browns: I had Ambrose at 22 on my ballot. That might be a little lower than most, but if early 2015 Dean Ambrose, aka “Rebound Clotheslines for Everyone!” is truly dead and late 2015/early 2016 Dean Ambrose, aka “just barely PG-version of Jon Moxley” is really the way we’re going with this guy, expect a big jump up my ballot next year. Thank goodness, too – I’d just about given up on WWE’s ability to capitalize on what Ambrose brings to the table.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Andrew Hewitt)
Last Year's Placement: 12th Place
TH: Lesnar's 2015 run was probably the best of any part-time scheduled wrestler in the ring that I can remember. He was able, just by sheer force of will alone, make two matches with the goddamn Undertaker look passable if not good. To quote a meme on Twitter, that effort is 100 percent miracle shit. Which is to say that he looked like one of the best wrestlers in history when his opponents were good, like John Cena, Roman Reigns, or Seth Rollins. Lesnar's size and history may have given him advantages that others didn't have, but then again, he could very easily have taken his role and done a cheap Togi Makabe imitation. But he didn't, and that's what matters.
Elliot Imes: I simply won't hear any arguments that Lesnar is overrated in the ring. If you're honest with yourself, you know that it's impossible to take your eyes off a Lesnar match for one moment. 2015 was no different.
Chris Gibbons: Brock Lesnar’s limited appearances mean he doesn’t have a ton of opportunities to make his case for being one of the best out there, but he makes the most out of those appearances. Whether he’s in the main event at Mania with Rollins and Reigns or suplexing the hell out of Kofi in Japan, Brock might be the most intimidating wrestler on earth.
Joshua Browns: Eater of worlds, Mayor of Suplex City, hawker of second-rate hoagies. Lesnar's ring work isn’t nearly as good or diverse as it was in his salad days in the early 2000’s, but he’s believably violent in the ring in a way that nobody else is. In an industry that’s supposed to be based on believable violence, that’s a pretty huge statement.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Brock Lutefisk)
Last Year's Placement: 94th Place
TH: Lynch didn't take long to remind everyone of her pedigree in the ring. NXT loosed her bindings, and she came out guns blazing in 2015, reminding everyone who forgot about Rebecca Knox that oh hey, she can rake in the ring. The Lass Kicker played a huge part in the big four-way match at Takeover: Rival, but her biggest boost came in a set-piece match against Sasha Banks. The two worked through holds and told a story that informed Lynch's NXT character better than anything she'd done to that point. Yeah, she had interviews and steampunk paraphernalia and other dressings, but people didn't know what made the Lass Kicker, well, kick. When you can discern those things from a wrestling match alone, then the artform of pro wrestling is attained at its highest level. If you can tell people about yourself just through ring psychology, then you've got to be a damn good wrestler, right? Although the second half of her year was marred by Divas Revolution bullshit, she still was able to work well in the limited time she got on RAW, Smackdown, and C-shows. Make no mistake about it; Becky Lynch was a vital, pardon the pun, linchpin to NXT in the first half of the year, and the more chances she'll get to wrestle long, rich matches, the better off everyone will be.
Bill Bicknell: Were it not for the emotional roller coaster that was BROOKLYN, Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks would be my favorite match of the year. That Rebecca Knox has been able to come to WWE and not just survive but thrive gives me at least some hope that maybe they'll turn this whole DIVAS REVOLUTION thing around.
Elliot Imes: Imagine trying to look excited when you have to wrestle Natalya in a meaningless three-minute match on Smackdown. That must be so hard, but apparently not for Becky Lynch. She's a house of fire every second she's working.
Chris Gibbons: Becky Lynch’s 2015 seems to have been overshadowed at least a little bit by the three other horsewomen, but she really came into her own as well. Her match with TakeOver: Unstoppable with Sasha Banks might not have the emotional resonance of the Bayley/Banks classics, but it’s still easily a top 10 match of the year. Lynch is the dark horse of the Divas division.
Joey O. The fourth horsewoman to truly make an impact on NXT, Lynch had a 'bexcellent' 2015, starting with the underrated fatal four-way Women's Championship match from NXT Takeover: Rival. She then had her best match yet against Sasha Banks a few months later. "Some say that..." once the awkward "Divas Revolution" trios storyline on the main roster shook out, Lynch shined once again and now she's mere days away from her Wrestlemania debut.
Frank McCormick: Though one of the NXT "4 Horsewomen," Becky Lynch wasn't the anticipated "star" of the Divas Revolution in the way Sasha Banks or Charlotte were. But right from the jump, she impressed me. Though her best work thus far will be evaluated and discussed in next year's TWB 100, even her 2015 work was well worthy of inclusion.
Brandon House: In NXT, she never really got the kind of focus the other Horsewomen got, but when she did get some spotlight, Becky made the most of it. Even on the main roster, Becky managed some good matches out of women who weren't quite on her level.
Stygimoloch: To think that just three or four years ago, nobody ever expected to see Rebecca Knox wrestle again. Although perhaps the one of The Four Horsewomen with the least buzz around her, she more than held her own when given the spotlight as the main roster division's top face.
Joshua Browns: Man, I don’t know – I have her at 27, and I keep asking myself if that's too low. Becky had some great matches this year, and her suplexes are a part of the song about my favorite wrestling things (that is, they would be if anything rhymed with "suplexes"). I thought her NXT stuff at the beginning of the year was excellent, and her match with Sasha at Takeover: Unstoppable is a genuinely great match. But then the whole Divas Revolution thing happened, and well…it’s just that Sasha had almost another six months of going back to NXT and having great matches with Bayley, and Becky…spent a lot of time in the ring with the likes of Tamina and Brie Bella. The good news is that the WWE seems to have, at least at present, sorted out their women’s division, and I think better days are ahead.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Sean Williams)
Last Year's Placement: 25th Place
TH: Bálor is weird because he's such a dynamic force in the ring, but he's often outshined by other wrestlers in NXT. Still, he's exciting when he's on, and even when he's not, he's still passable. He rose to the occasion in the big singles matches, like vs. Kevin Owens at Beast in the East, and Samoa Joe in London.
Elliot Imes: I was very hot on his match with Owens in Japan. He showed that he has the in-ring charisma to do anything he wants. Hopefully that means he will become a super-heel and destroy everyone.
Jamie Girouard: Bell-to-bell, Bálor was the best pure wrestler in NXT this past year, and it wasn't even close. He had two matches with Kevin Owens that were MOTY candidates and were overshadowed only by the fact one was on a special from Japan and the other was on the same show as the WWE MOTY at Takeover: Brooklyn.
Chris Gibbons: It’s kind of disappointing how little it seems that Balor actually wrestles in non-Takeover settings, and he’s definitely a more compelling character heeling it up instead of being a top babyface, but Balor was putting on great match after great match all throughout 2015. Those championship matches with Kevin Owens especially stand out.
Stygimoloch: Strange as this may sound, I feel like Finn Bálor's biggest problem is the Demon persona - as visually striking as it is, he doesn't actually wrestle any differently when he's supposedly channelling this dark side. How fortunate then that baseline Bálor is so good! He's adapted much of what made him so great in NJPW to NXT seamlessly, making every standard match feel like a big event and making every big event feel like a war.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Jamie Girouard, Frank McCormick, Bill Hanstock, Stacey Costabile-Wenslauskis)
Last Year's Placement: 2nd Place
TH: While I wasn't terribly high on Rollins' work in 2015, he had to get a vote because he was in too many good matches to leave off. He held his own in the Royal Rumble three-way and in various matches against smaller opponents like Neville. Hopefully, WWE will return him as a babyface, which is where he excels better as an in-ring worker.
Elliot Imes: He is a living work of art. I basically think he can do no wrong. From the in-ring mannerisms to the insane athleticism, Rollins never slums it, and gives you a show every time. Let's all hold hands and pray for his healthy return, just so we can hear that horrible laugh again.
Jamie Girouard: For most of 2015, Seth Rollins was asked to put WWE on his back from an in-ring perspective. And with few exceptions, he delivered. While the high points for wrestlers like John Cena and Sasha Banks might have been higher, no performer in the company consistently had good-to-great matches night in and night out like Rollins did. And for me, being the number-one wrestler in the biggest promotion in the world for the better part of nine months merits the number-one ranking in my poll.
Chris Gibbons: Rollins might have been the most annoying character on TV last year, but once he got in the ring (or at least on PPVs), that all melted away.
Joey O. Rollins was the linchpin of the first 3/4 of all WWE programming last year. After he "shocked the world" cashing in at Mania, he was the one true constant carrying main events and pretty much every WWE show all year long. While you can argue with how his character was booked at times, you can't deny that he always held up his end in the ring as the centerpiece of the promotion for the majority of 2015.
Frank McCormick: Even as I sent in my ballot, I could picture TH's pained expression upon seeing "Seth Rollins" at #1. And, yes, I do think there are legitimate criticisms of him, most particularly the criticism that he wrestles a babyface style as a heel, though I think a lot of that has to do with booking and a gradual shift in style throughout wrestling. Regardless, he is still my #1 for the simple reason that before he, too, succumbed to The Curse, Rollins pretty much carried the company on his Crossfit-sculpted shoulders and did it was aplomb. I have always been one more for the undercard rather than the main event, yet I looked forward to his matches wherever they happened to fall on the show. He had some of the best matches of the year, including a Wrestlemania performance that had me losing my mind. I can't wait for his triumphant return, and hope TH can someday forgive me.
Brandon House: Yo, the triple threat match at Royal Rumble was dope! And the Orton match at Wrestlemania was cool, especially with that finish. Not to mention the ending to Wrestlemania itself. And even though Rollins ended up irreparably breaking Sting, I kinda liked that match.
Joey on Earth: I had a hard time ranking my list but decided to give high rankings to WWE main roster talents like Seth Rollins, John Cena and Kevin Owens over the NXT stars. Rollins is the perfect example of my reasoning. The WWE Champion for the majority of 2015 sometimes had three or four noteworthy and impressive televised matches per week. That’s just about as much as Finn Balor had all year. Rollins had a career year achieving his dream as WWE Champion and most of his matches were quite good.
Stygimoloch: Much has been written about the mixed fortunes of Seth Rollins over the course of 2015. In the ring, his own performances were often at odds with the booking surrounding him, but taken out of context, his matches still tended to be highly enjoyable - not least of them at Royal Rumble, where he and Cena together managed to drag out of Brock Lesnar the first match from The Beast Incarnate that's ever actually managed to entertain me. Fingers crossed that he returns from his current injury in a role that plays to his strengths rather than exposing his weaknesses.
Tomorrow, the list reaches number five.