Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The 2015 TWB 100: 76 Through 100

Chikara's Hot Property kicks off the countdown
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Now that all the preamble stuff is out of the way, the time has come to get into the actual TWB 100. Enough fluff, I'm going to dive right in with number 100...

100. Fire Ant
Points: 784
Ballots: 14
Highest Vote: 21st Place (Bob Godfrey)
Last Year's Placement: 76th Place

David Kincannon: Fire Ant continues to be one of the best high flyers in wrestling. His work in Chikara’s Challenge of the Immortals tournament as part of the Battle Hive was top notch, especially their first round King of Trios match against the Bullet Club.

Jeff Stormer: You can't have a bad match with Fire Ant. Maybe you can, but I've never seen it.

Screen Grab via Inside Pulse
99. Rockstar Spud
Points: 787
Ballots: 15
Highest Vote: 11th Place (Nick Malone)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Jamie Girouard: Spud makes my top-50 on the basis of his program with Ethan Carter III, which was by far the best feud in TNA this past year. His underdog babyface work in that feud alone is the reason he makes my list.

Francis Adu: The performance that will define Rockstar Spud's 2015 is his against Ethan Carter III in the Hair vs Hair match in TNA. Spud gave one of the better babyface performances in recent memory playing the quintessential overmatched yet courageous and plucky underdog. Spud would go on to win the X Division title and receive shots at the TNA World Title but, despite those "opportunities", it never felt like TNA took Spud as seriously as they should. The man does comedy decently at least.

Photo Credit: Jason Wilt/
98. Ivelisse
Points: 797
Ballots: 14
Highest Vote: 22nd Place (Joey on Earth)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Bill Bicknell: Once Lucha Underground figured out exactly what they were doing with Ivelisse (i.e., NO MORE GARBAGE EAST COAST INDIE SEXIST INTERGENDER TROPES), she became one of the best characters on the show. Before THAT, she was great at what she was given. Don't let Matt Striker talk about her anymore, though.

Elliot Imes: She did more on one leg than many wrestlers can hope to do on two. How does WWE let someone like this leave?

Jeff Stormer: The centerpiece of Lucha Underground's greatest storyline triumph--the Unlikely Trio storyline--Ivelisse gave her team credibility and forward momentum. Also, she wrestled a ladder match with a broken foot. Respect.

Ryan Foster: Ivelisse had a compelling role in two matches on one of the best episodes of a pro wrestling show of all time with a broken damn ankle. That’s pretty good, I say.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
97. Cedric Alexander
Points: 832
Ballots: 16th Place
Highest Vote: 10th Place (Okori Wadsworth)
Last Year's Placement: 66th Place

David Kincannon: Alexander had a great 2015 in ROH, which included great matches with the likes of Dalton Castle and Jay Lethal. He also had two strong matches during AIW’s JT Lightning Invitational Tournament against Zema Ion and Colin Delaney

Bob RT: Forever the man of mystery. Talented enough to be a World Champion, and even pegged by Kevin Steen as the future on the way out. Needs to find a groove, I just don't think it's in ROH.

Photo Credit:
96. The Miz
Points: 848
Ballots: 17
Highest Vote: 14th Place (Joe Ellis)
Last Year's Placement: 42nd Place

Jeff Stormer: The Miz is the best there is at what he does, and what he does is piss off crowds and getting punched in the face.

Bob RT: Great at what he does. Do you hate him? Good. That's his job.

Butch Rosser: WHY WAS THIS MAN EVER A BABYFACE?! Seriously.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
95. Dasher Hatfield
Points: 852
Ballots: 16
Highest Vote: 15th Place (Brandon House)
Last Year's Placement: 57th Place

David Kincannon: Dasher Hatfield has been very good for a number of years now. In 2015, with his focus being on the Challenge of the Immortals tournament, he didn’t shine in the ring as much as he did in years past, but he was still very good, and worth inclusion on this list.

Jeff Stormer: One of Chikara's not-so-secret aces, Dasher had a hell of a 2015. A master of getting a crowd on his side.

Photo Credit:
94. Ryback
Points: 894
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 14th Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year's Placement: 79th Place

Francis Adu: Ryback might still be a bit too sloppy and reckless with his opponents, but The Big Guy in 2015 was a very entertaining hoss moonlighting as a lovable lug. He even flashed instances of solid body selling. Feed Ryback a Rusev, Luke Harper, Sheamus, and the like and there was a good chance you'll have more fun in those 8 minutes than you'd dream of.

Photo Credit: Mikey Nolan
93. Kenny Omega
Points: 910
Ballots: 14
Highest Vote: 8th Place (Bill Hanstock)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Elliot Imes: I first saw him this year and instantly knew he was one of my favorites. He will make amazing strides in 2016. SORRY WWE, YOU CAN'T HAVE HIM.

Jeff Stormer: If I were factoring in his New Japan work, Omega'd be way higher. But that's not to say his American work isn't great as well.

Bob RT: Another one I ranked higher than most. Hopefully we see him more in the states in 2016, as I believe he's just scratching the surface of his potential.

Photo Credit: Corey Tatum
92. Jimmy Rave
Points: 942
Ballots: 11
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Dylan Hales)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: Rave is such a cerebral wrestler. He sees what his opponent can do and tailors his strategy to it, which is huge on the indies with such a diversity of style and lack of "match producer" to get everyone on the same page. He's not just a "get your shit in" type of guy, even though he certainly does have shit that he gets in. Look at his run in the Scenic City Invitational for evidence. His matches with Anthony Henry and Gunner Miller are both different from each other yet were both worthy of praise in their own ways. And then the final was another big performance where he not only changed alignments from the first two matches, but changed it mid-match without seeming opportunistic or clunky. He has a feel for the crowd and for the moment, and that's a quality one cannot discount.

Photo Credit:
91. Colin Cassady
Points: 951
Ballots: 23
Highest Vote: 25th Place (Joe Drilling)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Jeff Stormer: Colin Cassady's offense in 2015 finally seemed to match his stature. He came into his own as a 7-foot brawler.

Bob RT: A poster boy for NXT. Has progressed mightily in the ring to go with his ability to work on the stick. WWE bound in no time.

Butch Rosser: If you're wondering why the Bridge and Tunnel Boyz have yet to and will probably never capture the NXT World Tag Team Championships it's because most of the time the behemoth in the dyad's been essentially wrestling handicap matches; it's a wonder they've gotten as far as they have. Watching his "whale on somebody until Enzo's recovered enough for the Rocket Launcher" offense has escalated in effectiveness over time, which, ironically enough, is teachable.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
90. Michael Elgin
Points: 974
Ballots: 16
Highest Vote: 9th Place (Nick Ahlhelm)
Last Year's Placement: 83rd Place

Bob RT: Started off the year stagnant, and sleepwalked through his War of the Worlds performances, his career rejuvenation after coming back from NJPW was nothing short of a revelation. With a renewed passion showing through, his second half of 2015 established Big Mike as a credible World Title threat once again.

Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
89. Son of Havoc/Matt Cross
Points: 980
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 18th Place (Stacey Costabile-Wenslauskis)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Bill Bicknell: Before 2015, I'd have identified Matt Cross as "that boring Tough Enough guy who was part of the worst Rey de Voladores ever." He absolutely stepped up last year everywhere I saw him, not just as Ivelisse's incompetent biker boyfriend.

Jeff Stormer: Son of Havoc made crowds hate him, then pity him, then root for him, then believe in him, then cheer so hard when he finally won.

Ryan Foster: One of the most enjoyable things in the last year of wrestling for me was watching a goofy-looking bearded man in a cheap executioner’s mask try to impress his ex-girlfriend by flipping all over the place. Son of Havoc was one of the best Lucha Underground performers on a weekly basis, hitting a perfect median between the acrobatic lucha style and the grimy, hard hitting feel of the temple.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
88. Mark Briscoe
Points: 985
Ballots: 21
Highest Vote: 18th Place (Christopher Zinn)
Last Year's Placement: 85th Place

TH: Chicken Briscoe always puts a smile on my face with his facial expressions, body language, and his complete disregard for his own health with some of the bumps he takes. He brings energy to every match he's in.

Bob RT: The lesser decorated of the two Briscoe brothers held service in 2015 while his brother held the ROH World Championship for the first six months of the year. Definitely showed what he could do throughout the year on his own, and had some stellar PPV outings.

Francis Adu: There's probably no one in wrestling who works as consistently hard as Mark Briscoe. He's willing to kill himself every match even when he's jobbing or not getting much time. Also, I like his gruff Appalachian wildman gimmick a bit more than his brother Jay's. Every roster could use a Mark Briscoe.

Photo Credit:
87. Alexa Bliss
Points: 992
Ballots: 23
Highest Vote: 23rd Place (Bill Bicknell)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: Even when she was a placeholder opponent between "big" challenges for Sasha Banks, Bliss stood out. Her ability to sell and go with the flow of her opponent's offense has been evident even before she was allowed to do offensive maneuvers. But then she turned heel and developed both a meanstreak and an appropriate offense for a baddie of her size. It's hard for anyone to standout in the shadow of the Horsewomen, but Bliss did just that.

Bill Bicknell: Everyone's so into the hashtag diva's revolution that I feel like we've slept on how great Alexa Bliss has gotten. She's got such a great range of emotion and her wrestling has improved by leaps and bounds, too.

Jeff Stormer: Alexa Bliss put the pieces together in 2015, becoming first a babyface that was easy to rally behind--and then a positively masterful bratty heel with the hard-hitting offense to back it up.

Butch Rosser: Despite being a perpetual disappoint to Our Lady Mama Bliss of Perpetual Agelessness, Alexa did for facial reactions what Steph Curry does from pretty much the time he walks into an arena. Her heel turn improved her exponentially, and her as the centerpiece with two guys as ineffectual eye candy continues a great inversion of a widely disseminated trope. Here's hope she gets more ring time and more time to curdle her upper list in disgust at the unwashed masses this year.

Francis Adu: Before 2015, Bliss showed quite a bit of potential to be a fascinating future core member of NXT's women's division with her athleticism and unique sprite-like look. However, her heel turn in May 2015 unlocked even more potential than I realized as she used her new mean streak to utilize her athleticism with more viciousness. Bliss truly felt like a jerk and; even a bit dangerous despite her tiny size. Bliss is by no means a ring general yet but her demonstrated ability to portray character made for an entertaining year and a higher ceiling than previously thought.

Ryan Foster: Who knew that a wrestler who started out working a Tinker Bell gimmick could benefit so much from developing a mean streak? Bliss still has a lot of developing to do as a worker but learning the heel style has done wonders for her already. Bliss deserves a major program soon to show what she can really do.

Scott Holland: Judging Alexa Bliss is, unfairly or not, an exercise in seeing where she ranks against legendary years from several other NXT wrestlers. In the context of the full roster, or the TWB100 at large, she’s clearly got room for improvement. But as a standalone wrestler, I almost always enjoy her matches. She seems to have a good understanding of maximizing her size and, for lack of a better term, doing stuff that looks like it should hurt.

Photo Credit:
86. Aiden English
Points: 1011
Ballots: 25
Highest Vote: 17th Place (Jesse Powell)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: English may not have the dazzling grappling that his partner has, but he's certainly taken ownership of what a high-flying spot machine might have looked like in the olden days. Imagine Georg Hackenschmidt doing a senton atomico; English probably gave the most insight into that possibility.

Bill Bicknell: *pantomime silent film motions indicating that English is a great wrestler but really needs to stop doing that "wear your own T-shirt like a serape" thing that wrestlers do, stay in character man*

Jeff Stormer: He showed real fire in the run to Takeover: Brooklyn, earning his spot as NXT Tag Champion, and nicely established a character as a fired-up babyface with a sense of honor.

Bob RT: Good for what he is. Has found his niche with Gotch in the Vaudevillians and has definitely carved out a spot as a comedy tag act in NXT, and hopefully on the main roster.

Butch Rosser: One of the perennials of NXT's tag division finally had everything coalesce together in the best year of his life from both in and out of the ring perspectives. Whether he was being a beloved champion or subtly and then blatantly returning back to his villainous roots, the Gentleman's Grappler could always be counted on to deliver solidly with occasional borderline greatness, and they still have yet to give him a spotlight big enough to showcase all of the talent I suspect he has on offer.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
85. Kazuchika Okada
Points: 1020
Ballots: 14
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Nick Ahlhelm)
Last Year's Placement: 98th Place

David Kincannon: New Japan’s working relationship with Ring of Honor allowed Kazuchika Okada to work six matches in the US and Canada in 2015, and even with that small sample size, it’s still clear to see why he’s considered one of the very best in the world.

Elliot Imes: My number 6 pick. He rains goodness upon us all. He's able to adjust his style and have a compelling match with anyone.

Bob RT: I'm biased here, and ranked him way higher than most, but I think he's one of the greatest performers in the world, and proved it in the States during his limited showings in ROH. I can watch him work a paper bag. Great at what he does.

Butch Rosser: The Rainmaker is one of the ten best wrestlers in the world. Full stop. But since the IWGP World Champion obviously doesn't do most of his work here, he lands here. Whatever; we all know what the facts are.

Photo Credit:
84. Enzo Amore
Points: 1039
Ballots: 25
Highest Vote: 24th Place (Joe Drilling)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Rich Thomas: Enzo Amore reminds me of a specific kind of guy would see at the bar. He is a guy who seems like he is always about to start something, but you never know if he is up to it. That is what makes him dangerous.

Jeff Stormer: Maybe the most improved of 2015. Went from being essentially a manager to a guy I actively look forward to seeing in the ring. Makes getting beaten up and thrown around (both by his enemies and his partner) an art-form.

Butch Rosser: The Catchphrase King was seemingly put on Earth for two simple objectives: to handle the microphone like Van Exel, and to get beaten up like a Pistons fan in '04. His journey from favorite insult generator of a then-on-commentary William Regal to the man who had 14,000 rocking and singing along to his intro the night before SummerSlam has been breathtaking on its own, but he's bolstered in with more & better in-ring offense to the point where he and Cass might jump ponds without even getting a splash of championship gold beforehand--something that's borderline unheard of. At the rate he's going he'll be the first person to figure out how to run down a beach into his own arms.

Scott Holland: Enzo Amore is a certified G and a bona fide stud, and he’s also doing his damndest to prove he belongs in a WWE ring. I don’t necessarily think TWB100 votes should hinge on one singular performance (provided the voter has seen a fuller slate of said candidate’s work), but Amore excelled at TakeOver: London, which represents the kind of match he can be expected to deliver as the situation warrants. I want to see Enzo win for many reasons, but it’s important that among them are his ability to hold his own in a fight even when others might write him off as insignificant.

Photo Credit: Mikey Nolan
83. Brian Cage
Points: 1043
Ballots: 21
Highest Vote: 12th Place (Ryan Foster)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

Jeff Stormer: The Man They Call Cage was an unexpected but perfect addition to Lucha Underground: he looked like a monster when paired with the smaller luchadors, and his absurd hoss style both looked vicious and elevated his opponents.

Ryan Foster: Lucha Underground is the ideal environment for Cage, where he can thrive as the giant over-muscled meathead throwing around guys a quarter his size. Plus he rid us of the dull original LU championship belt so good on him.

Photo Credit:
82. Dash Wilder
Points: 1044
Ballots: 29
Highest Vote: 19th Place (Willow Maclay)
Last Year's Placement: Not Ranked

TH: In many ways, Wilder was the biggest revelation in 2015 in NXT. Dawson showed chops before, but Wilder, to the point where his team broke out, was part of the milquetoast crowd of PC graduates bunched together. Once he was given a direction, his in-ring work started to take shape, and he was perfectly suited as the second half of an old-school Andersons tribute act.

Jeff Stormer: There's something to be said for doing one thing well, and Dash and Dawson are very good at convincingly tearing up knees.

Bob RT: Love the old school gimmick, works perfect in NXT. How that will translate to the main roster remains to be seen, but for now it's very enjoyable.

Butch Rosser: D-Dubs went from a nobody to a NXT World Tag Team Champion and somebody I would regard as sneakily good. Of course part of this is due to the fact that he's gotten more time to show off his skillset but most of this can be attributed to his long residency under the learning tree that he's getting from his partner, the higher rated Scott Dawson. Just because you give somebody lemons and water and sugar doesn't mean they put it together correctly; so far Dash has. And barring injury, onward and upward for him.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
81. Silver Ant
Points: 1046
Ballots: 15
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (David Kincannon)
Last Year's Placement: 50th Place

TH: Silver Ant was maybe the hardest hit in terms of focus by the Challenge of the Immortals, but he was able to show off range, not only in terms of base style, but also in terms of emotional pitch and alignment. Basically, he became far more than Chikara's ambassador to the #grapplefrick community. No matter where he was needed, he did his job and did it well.

Bill Bicknell: *writes "In 2015, Silver was gold" before retiring to sip martinis by the pool, satisfied with my excellent work*

David Kincannon: Some might call me a Chikara homer, but I honestly believe that Silver Ant is one of the finest wrestlers in the world. His technical game is amazing to me, and in 2015, he added some amazing in-ring character work. For me, his story was the highlight of the Challenge of the Immortals tournament, and his increased aggressiveness in the ring went right along with his dark descent as a part of Nasmaldun’s empire.

Jeff Stormer: Silver Ant is quietly the most versatile guy in CHIKARA. Whether he's a tecnico or rudo, submission specialist or Strong Style brawler, he can do anything, and do it super well.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
80. Eddie Kingston
Points: 1060
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 21st Place (Joe Ellis)
Last Year's Placement: 52nd Place

Bill Bicknell: I got to see Eddie Kingston spend ten minutes trading bombs with Blaster McMassive in Columbus and it fulfilled a lifetime's worth of HOSSFIGHT personal goals. Also he ate all of my chocolate buckeyes.

David Kincannon: If you’ve never seen Eddie Kingston throw a suplex, a forearm, or a backfist, you’re missing out. The man is the very definition of intensity, and desire. His AAW championship defense against Josh Alexander in January was a thing of ugly beauty.

Jeff Stormer: The spotlight shifted away from Eddie in CHIKARA in 2015, and he spent much of the year a bit lost in the Challenge of the Immortal shuffle. But that's probably for the best for him, because, free of storyline obligations, he could get back to doing what he does best--being a vicious, hard-hitting brawler.

Scott Holland: I saw one live wrestling show in 2015 and Eddie Kingston was on it. It was the only time I saw Eddie Kingston wrestle at all in 2015, for that matter. But he captured my attention instantly and earned what I consider one of the highest compliments you can pay a wrestler: His character shone through his work in the ring, but in the way that authenticated both the performer and the performance. This was especially important for me as a fan who, going in, didn’t have a real good understanding of any of the characters on the show.

Photo Credit: Mikey Nolan
79. Candice LeRae
Points: 1100
Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 13th Place (Bob Godfrey, Hayley Erin)
Last Year's Placement: 33rd Place

David Kincannon: Whether part of The World’s Cutest Tag Team, or on her own as a singles wrestler, Candice LeRae delivers in the ring. I highly suggest finding her match vs Tessa Blanchard from April 2015.

Elliot Imes: I've only seen her work in PWG, but that's good enough for me. She makes any match she's in at least ten times more fun.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
78. Chuck Taylor
Points: 1139
Ballots: 21
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year's Placement: 61st Place

TH: Taylor is not everyone's cup of tea, but if he is, then he's a much-enjoyable cup of tea. He was one of the best comedic performers in the best company for those kinds of wrestlers, and his interplay with the Swamp Monster was a high point of any match he was in.

Jeff Stormer: 2015 was a hell of a retirement tour for Chuck Taylor. It's a shame we'll never see him wrestle again, but his as long as his influence can be felt in newcomers like Scoot Tatum, Rick Beanbag, Bugg Nevans, and Touch Philips, it'll be like he never left.

Bob RT: Wildly entertaining. He "gets it", probably will never be on the top of a promotion, but good enough to be a viable piece to one for as long as he wants.

Frank McCormick: Simply, no one does comedy matches better than Chuck Taylor. He makes it look easy, when it is anything but. And the fact is that Chuck Taylor's just a good, underappreciated wrestler in general anyway.

Mike Pankowski: Chuck Taylor is the king of comedy wrestling right now. He plays the role of wrestling curmudgeon so well when playing the bad guy that you’ll boo him a second after cheering him. And if the match forces him to keep it serious, he has the skills to bring a solid match. Chuckie T is a wrestling treasure and we should be happy that he may not have retired after all.

Photo Credit:
77. Hideo Itami
Points: 1159
Ballots: 24
Highest Vote: 13th Place (Rich Thomas)
Last Year's Placement: 36th Place

TH: Itami was off to a fine year when his unfortunate shoulder injury struck. He acclimated to NXT better than his double, Finn Bálor, and he had a nice series of matches with Tyler Breeze that helped hold down the fort on weekly television for NXT.

Rich Thomas: To me Hideo Itami had the best Wrestlemania weekend. He had three great matches, including give the NXT San Jose show the GTS, and a great performance in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Every match I saw him in this year I loved him. If he didn’t get hurt he would be in my top 5.

David Kincannon: Due to injury, Itami worked a shortened version of 2015, with his last match coming in April. However, with fantastic matches against the likes of Tyler Breeze and Finn Balor, those four months were well worth a vote for The Wrestling Blog 100.

Bob RT: Hindered by injury, he was just hitting his stride before he was sent to IR. A master at his craft, hopefully he can pick up where he left off, including popping crowds into a frenzy by hitting a GTS or two. Or twenty.

Butch Rosser: In the spring of last year, it really looked like the former KENTA was going to be the next champ up and would pry the Big X out of the angry paws of the French Canadian Murder Bear, especially with the gripping highlight package he got centered around his first WrestleMania Yet like so many of his main roster brethren, he fell victim to an injury that unmade his momentum and flatlined his year. Hopefully when he returns he can pick up where he left off. Hm. Does he have any connection to who the NXT champion is now?

Photo Credit:
76. Tommaso Ciampa
Points: 1182
Ballots: 29
Highest Vote: 30th Place (Matthew Hollinger)
Last Year's Placement: 80th Place

Elliot Imes: I got to see him work against Fenix, and through a friend of a friend, I was allowed into the venue early and saw Ciampa and Fenix working out their match in the ring. I could tell that Ciampa has a brilliant mind for wrestling, which only furthers my immense respect for what he does inside and outside of it.

Bob RT: Main evented the ROH Anniversary show in a overbooked losing effort, then jumped ship to greener pastures, and ultimately NXT, where he shined with Johnny Gargano. Pegged by me as a WWE guy from the first time I saw him, I was very impressed to see him in a WWE ring.

Butch Rosser: I hadn't had a lot of exposure to Ciampa before Evolve became a subsidiary of WWE's subsidiary, but even I have to laugh at this ostensible Whitemeat Babyface #282 he's being presented as. That said, "hard hitting badass" is always going to be compelling, and his match against Samoa Joe may've been the best less-than-10 minute match put on a TV show last year. Whether or not NXT gives him a rocket up the card or he stomps around the indies and presumably horrifies small children, any match with Ciampa in it is worth at least a perusal. There are several future Hall of Famers left off of my ballot that I couldn't say that about, but I could in his case.

The countdown resumes TOMORROW as the list will get to the halfway point.