|If you don't like Fred Yehi, you're in BIG TROUBLE|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Fred Yehi - I hate saying I "discovered" Yehi because who the fuck am I, right? But I do take a certain pride seeing other fans and bigger promotions start to see why I've dug him for the last five years. Once he caught on with some promotion that had some sway, he was going to skyrocket up the ladder. That is exactly what happened in 2016. He parlayed some fringe Full Impact Pro bookings into a meteoric rise in EVOLVE that included getting his face plastered on WWE Dot Com's front page in conjunction with Cruiserweight Classic qualifying matches. The best part is his game is and has never been static. He's not the same wrestler he was working in that small venue in Porterdale for fancam YouTube footage, but he's built upon that with incredibly addicting charisma and personality. I don't know how anyone can look at Yehi and not think he's one of the best, most feelgood wrestling stories of the year. This guy is gonna rake in the biz, and I couldn't be any happier for him than I am now.
Sasha Banks - Her public perception took a hit last year because she took Sabu bumps, which was really weird to me given that Jeff Hardy had a career renaissance. Maybe if she worked with a better base than Charlotte, she might not have caught so much heat. Either way, she was still super enjoyable to watch last year, even if it was in a wholly different role than the one she had in 2015, when she was counted on to be the workrate horse and boss big bad in NXT. The fact that she took to being a cult hero so well, not just in crowd reaction but in actually playing to sympathies, is validation enough that she's forever to be known as The Boss.
Drew Gulak - On one hand, I love that Gulak is drawing a WWE paycheck. But selfishly, if that WWE paycheck is going to make him more enhancement talent on television than important cog in EVOLVE or NXT or wherever going forward, it feels like a waste. Gulak was consistently the best part of many shows he was on, in EVOLVE, but even in Chikara. I mean, he wrestled for a considerable amount of time with a net draped over him at King of Trios, and even stayed under the net after the show to sign autographs (ask @YoSoyKeith about his autographed picture sometime). Like, anyone who says he's boring or not versatile can suck my ass, to be quite blunt. It's just the character he played in EVOLVE was super close to the vest, and even then, he let his work in the ring talking. Who knows, maybe he'll be next in line for a push of the month when he gets his first win on 205 Live or RAW. I just wanna see him twist people into pretzels. HE's the best at it.
Sami Zayn - Honestly, I thought going to the main roster would ruin his vibe, but he's remained good and pure from his run in NXT as the most innocent and lovable underdog possible. Things got a bit antsy at times, especially after Battleground, when WWE followed up his first "last match" on the main roster with Kevin Owens with a big fat nothing in terms of build, but at the same time, that really only built his mystique up. A perpetually misallocated talent builds up some more goodwill when he's just laying about. And then when he got a chance to go up against BRAAAAAAAUUUUUNNNN Strowman, he got to show again how crystalline a babyface he is and can be. Few wrestlers bring as much joy to the eternal slog that is Monday Night RAW on a consistent basis than Sami Zayn.
Heidi Lovelace - Her promo before her big Grand Championship match against Kimber Lee at Secret of the Ooze cut right through my heart, man. So many people just don't know how to cut promos nowadays. Sure, they can orate and use persuasive language and sound interesting. But how many times do their speeches fall short of really promoting the match, the story that they're going to tell within it, or really resonate? Maybe it's because everyone wants to be a heel nowadays, whether one that gets booed or one that is so cool that the crowds cheer them that the art of being a true babyface is maybe not lost but obscured. But it lives in Lovelace. She is out there imploring me to follow her into battle, and I am listening with full attention. I hope she kicks everyone in the head in WWE and makes them realize what it means to be a true heroic figure.
Jack Gallagher - Has WWE had a character as fun as Gallagher ever? At least in the last ten years? Santino Marella came close, but he was a walking parody by the time I got back into wrestling. Gallagher may end up veering into that territory, which sucks because comedy doesn't have to be a separate genre of wrestling than actual wrestling. His matches so far, from the Cruiserweight Classic through 205 Live/RAW have been brilliant for reasons other than his grasp of comedic timing. Wrestling has so many places where it can evolve, and Gallagher represents an opportunity to explore and advance comedy that hasn't been present since the early days of Kurt Angle. But regardless, he's just such a delight to watch every time he's on screen.
Jervis Cottonbelly - I haven't seen much of Ol' Jervis this year because he's mostly been on the West Coast and not in Chikara. I do hope he comes back, I miss him so.
Chris Jericho - In terms of actual artistic impact and talent, the time has arrived to start considering Jericho one of the best of all time. He may have lost his fastball in the ring, but god, how many times has he come back, reinvented himself, and become THE character on any given television show he's been on? The "drink it in, maaaan" and List of Jericho shtick has been golden, and he has such great rapport with Kevin Owens. No matter what he might do that induces a groan (and this happens a lot especially out of character or on Twitter), who can deny the greatness of Y2J, man? He's the gift that keeps on giving. Drink it in, maaaaaaan.