Friday, March 31, 2017

The 2016 TWB 100 Slow Release: #20-#6

The Miz kicks the proceedings off today
Photo Credit:
Today's entry gets the list to the doorstep of the top five. EXCITING.

20. The Miz
Points: 3528
Number of Ballots: 50
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Joe Drilling)
Last Year’s Ranking: 96th Place

TH: If getting the crowd to react is the only metric you use for how good a wrestler is, Miz has to be near the top of the list. But he’s actually learned how to be a good-to-great at times worker over the years. It’s been amazing seeing him round into an almost John Cena-esque evolution over the years. His matches with Dolph Ziggler were surprisingly among WWE’s best given how much they’ve wrestled in the past and how underwhelming their affairs have been until the past year.

Brock Jahnke: In an era in which fans by and large just boo and cheer whoever the hell they want to, The Miz stands tall as one of the world’s heels who still garners the ever-elusive (i.e. totally fictional) True Heat. Much of it comes from promos and segments, but the majority of it is still derived from antics and chicanery. He doesn’t usually bring the sort of in-ring action that other fans might want, but for me, he’s usually the most entertaining person in the ring.

Ryan Neely: Man, where the hell has this Miz been? Dude had an absolute fire lit under his ass in 2016. He always had the ability to be a great character, but he finally found the right babyfaces to go against in the ring, stole Daniel Bryan’s moveset in the most incredible way, had an excellent feud against Ziggler, and made the IC Title matter.

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19. Cedric Alexander
Points: 3627
Number of Ballots: 51
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Okori Wadsworth)
Last Year’s Ranking: 97th Place

TH: Alexander has always been on my radar, even before ROH started screwing him up with disuse. Of course, he finally got free, got a platform both in the Cruiserweight Classic and on 205 Live, and knocked it out of the goddamn park. His match with Kota Ibushi was a modern classic, and he was one of the few guys whose actual in-ring work was able to get over with the crowd, even though he was in the ring with a lesser opponent in a shit feud. Alexander can be huge based on his work alone, and he showed that when he finally got a chance to.

Dirk Kessler: Cedric Alexander has drawn everybody's attention in the cruiserweight classic, despite not qualifying for the final stages. You rarely see such a lightfooted cruiserweight who can transform into a believable hard hitter when appropriate. If WWE can step up their game regarding the cruiserweights, Cedric Alexander's moment will come.

Butch Rosser: That match against Kota Ibushi in the CWC was so superlative it's the kind of thing you show to wrestling atheists and make them believe if only for 20 minutes. It alone got him into my top 50, damn near my top 25, and got him essentially signed on the spot. To mimic another popular Full Sail chant, he deserves it.

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18. Bayley
Points: 3675
Number of Ballots: 49
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Vincent Piccolo)
Last Year’s Ranking: 2nd Place

TH: Bayley had quite an erratic year, given that she was shuttled onto the “Creative has nothing for you” bin on RAW by the end of the year. But her high end matches with Asuka as well as reprising her surprisingly great match from Takeover: London with Nia Jax helped get her a high spot on my list among the Horsewomen. While Becky Lynch probably had the more consistent year, Bayley’s highs were high enough for me to consider her year a success.

Brock Jahnke: All things considered, Bayley is probably the least polished member of the poorly-named Four Horsewomen, but I find her to be one of the more endearing members. That certainly extends to her matches, where her childlike fangirl character makes for one of the best babyfaces in wrestling today. Her 2016 probably pales in comparison to her 2015, but she again made magic happen in Brooklyn, albeit not with the fairy tale ending she had the year before.

Ryan Neely: The two Takeover matches against Asuka had inevitable endings and yet both were incredible, emotional matches. That’s not easy to do. The sight of Bayley taking Asuka’s kicks, standing up and screaming at her, only to eat one last kick and lose in Brooklyn still sticks with me.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
17. Zack Sabre, Jr.
Points: 3755
Number of Ballots: 48
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (David Kincannon)
Last Year’s Ranking: 37th Place

TH: I’ve always liked the kind of polite brand of #grapplefuck that Sabre brought to the table, even as some soured on it. His kind of joint work and counters and transitions is fun to watch. But watching him grow this year, at least in America, as a showy, exhibition-style worker into someone who figured out how to merge that sort of oeuvre with actual, American, escalation-based wrestling, for lack of a better term. He showed he could use it to try and one-up a rival or go too far and try to break someone’s arm out of revenge or anger instead of just wringing it because he could. I can’t think of one time he bored me last year, whether in EVOLVE or live or at the Cruiserweight Classic. He’s a technical master, and I’m glad he got to put it on full display.

Brock Jahnke: If you know me, you’re probably aware of my love/hate relationship with ZSJ. I’m not sure if there’s a more inconsistent wrestler in the world outside of maybe Adam Cole, and even then Cole’s highs and lows aren’t as disparate. Still, even if I find him to be overpushed and overrated, and even if I find his “smart” work to be too obvious for my taste, he’s occasionally absolutely brilliant, which made for some of my favorite matches of 2016.

Joey O.: Zack Sabre Jr. headlined a Chikara show last November against Juan Francisco de Coronado and my wife and I had front row seats. Longtime friend of TWB and wrestling photographer extraordinaire Zia Hiltey was shooting the show right in front of us and as ZSJ was twisting JFDC's arms and fingers into pretzels, she turned around to us and whispered, "He's a monster!" That pretty much says it all for the British technical specialist.

Butch Rosser: His deep run in the CWC was one of a fusillade of mind-bending events in '16 that could make you feel like the time-space continuum ruptured and opened a series of wormholes where nearly every promotion got their EPMD crossover with at least another. Yet ZSJ knew what he was worth, and opted to remain a god of the indies instead of a Stamford employee time compressed on Mondays and after SmackDown Live on Tuesday. An inferior may have walked off with the purple belt, but outside of one Golden Star of an exemption, anyone who saw his clinics with Drew Gulak and Noam Dar knew who the best cruiser in the tourney was, and that was just in the four matches you could see on the Network.

Elliot Imes: He makes the most complicated stuff look like a breeze. For such a lackadaisical vibe, Sabre can turn on the brutality with no warning, which lends his matches an air of tension and unpredictability.

Frank McCormick: Though I knew of Zack Sabre Jr. and his work through the so-called “Internet Wrestling Community” (TH: “The Internet Wrestling Community?!”), the CWC was my first chance to really see him work. His work was interesting and novel, certainly worthy of inclusion in the TWB 100. I have to admit, though, that I was kind of disappointed by ZSJ. It just did not impress me to the degree I had anticipated. I hear good things about his work this year, however, so hopefully I’ll get some drive and take a look at him with fresh eyes for TWB 100 2017.

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16. Samoa Joe
Points: 3855
Number of Ballots: 47
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Andrew Smith)
Last Year’s Ranking: 12th Place

TH: Joe got maligned because his big set-piece matches for the NXT Championship fell a bit flat. It’s hard to blame it all on his opponents, but I still saw value in his crusher-destroyer bit, even if it didn’t really translate into great matches with anyone but Sami Zayn. That is to say, he was good even if the matches were lacking, which is good enough for a back-end vote in a down year.

Brock Jahnke: With a too-long Finn B├ílor feud, a pair of subpar Shinsuke Nakamura matches, and a decade of mediocrity leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many, I can understand why most people weren’t thrilled with Samoa Joe’s 2016. I certainly had to go out of my way to see his value, with fancams and less-hyped matches. Still, with a series of good-to-great matches with Sami Zayn early in the year and a few one-offs with the likes of Eric Young and Oney Lorcan, Joe ended up being one of my favorite workers in WWE in 2016, hinting at the greatness of his youth.

Ryan Neely: Joe’s 2016 was defined by two feuds that felt like they stretched on forever, but I was perfectly content to watch this angry Samoan hit some of the stiffest moves you’ll ever see in a wrestling ring.

Elliot Imes: Joe was phenomenal all year. He terrifies me. His bleeding menace during the Takeover: Dallas match with Balor was palpable, and it also sent my blood-queasy friend who had smoked a weird strain of weed into his own kitchen and caused him to sit on the floor for ten minutes to collect himself. Samoa Joe can physically AND mentally harm you.

Jon Hunt: All of his matches with Nakamura have been very Hashimoto-esque with their focus on stiff strikes and kicks, and that is style that I don't see a lot of men do anymore. The fact that it's WWE putting on this style of match is one of my favorite things about wrestling in 2016.

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15. Roman Reigns
Points: 3888
Number of Ballots: 51
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Scott Raychel)
Last Year’s Ranking: 16th Place

TH: Honestly, the cacophony surrounding Reigns makes it hard to accurately judge him because in the age of talking points, they fly around him like trash surrounds planet Earth. The truth is he’s not a bad worker, even though outside of the AJ Styles feud, he didn’t have a whole lot of signature matches to hang his hat upon. The “ROMAN SUCKS” crowd drastically underrates him because he is good at working underneath, is even better at working as a prick heel bully (again, as defined by the Styles feud), and has great signature spots. The “ROMAN RULZ” crowd comically overrates him because he hasn’t learned to transition from working underneath to his superman comebacks, and outside of the Brock Lesnar match in 2015, he hasn’t really shown he can turn in a transcendent company ace-type match more than occasionally (the Styles feud, which he was actively good in, required him to play a different role). So here the narrative stands. Either way, he’s a good hand around whom the noise severely needs to die.

Ryan Neely: I love so much of what Reigns does in the ring, and even the one area I struggle with, how quickly he recovers and no-sells from incredible damage, is tied to the continued struggle WWE has with his invincible character, rather than some irredeemable issue with his in-ring ability. Whatever the character issues exist with Reigns, the guy can really go in the ring.

Scott Raychel: Roman Reigns had a stand out 2016 by absorbing the unwarranted top guy heat from John Cena and using it to continuously prove wrong anyone who has ever chanted the words "YOU CAN'T WRESTLE" at him. This year is the most improvement he's shown in the ring since going solo. Just shut up and love him already GEEZ.

Joey O.: Put aside the infuriating booking of his character... between the ropes, does Roman Reigns actually have bad matches? With anyone? Formulaic - sure, but this is pro wrestling. The Big Dog can certainly bring it with a wide variety of opponents and his own personal five moves of doom are still exciting to watch.

Photo Credit:
14. Charlotte Flair
Points: 3901
Number of Ballots: 53
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Henry Casey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 31st Place

Ryan Neely: Turning Charlotte Flair into a shitty heel was the best thing they ever could have done for her. Though she was the one WWE anointed as the face of the Women’s division from the moment she was called up, it felt like she didn’t turn the corner until turning on Becky Lynch early in the year. It’s hard to separate some of the booking oddities and cringeworthy “MAKING HISTORY” proclamations from the Sasha Banks feud, but the actual matches between those two stand up as some of the best of the year, and the Triple Threat was the best match on the card at Mania.

Elliot Imes: If Sasha Banks gets to be ranked high up on our list, Charlotte Flair should get the same honor. She has come a long way in playing a heel character in the ring, in her movements and actions. She also was the star of the Triple Threat at Mania 32.

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13. Tommaso Ciampa
Points: 4005
Number of Ballots: 52
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Brian Coulter)
Last Year’s Ranking: 76th Place

TH: Ciampa didn’t have the indie resume of his tag partner, but man, he was great as the hammer in the #DIY tag team. He was maybe the second or third best hot tag in WWE all year (depending on how one feels about Rhyno), and boy did his knee strikes and other assorted big blows act as an appropriate counter to The Revival’s no-nonsense throwback offense. Even his big singles match within WWE, vs. said tag partner Johnny Gargano during the Cruiserweight Classic, was the best, or at least my favorite match, during the whole tournament, and that event was maybe the thing in wrestling I loved the most from last year. Ciampa was a huge part of the best things in wrestling in 2016 and he should be recognized as such.

Brock Jahnke: Ciampa really opened my eyes in 2015, evolving from the worst guy in PWG openers to one of my favorite guys to watch on the US indies. If anything, he continued that evolution in 2016, bringing Johnny Gargano along to having a few of my favorite matches of the year. He’s prone to theatrics, but sometimes, in the bright-lights-and-fireworks world of WWE, that’s what you need, and he navigates that shallow and fickle world fairly well.

Elliot Imes: It's hard to say who was better in the CWC match with him and Gargano, but I can say that I appreciate wild-eyed intensity from the guy who will no longer be known as the Psycho Killer. Can he still be the Sicilian Psychopath, at least? Come on, guys!

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12. Becky Lynch
Points: 4095
Number of Ballots: 55
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Frank McCormick)
Last Year’s Ranking: 8th Place

TH: She didn’t have the highest highs of the Horsewomen or of any woman in WWE, but Lynch was perhaps the most consistent week-to-week wrestler among them. Hell, she was probably the most consistent wrestler in WWE not named AJ Styles in 2016. While she didn’t have the signature match like Bayley/Asuka or Banks/Flair Falls Count Anywhere, her baseline was extraordinarily higher than anyone else’s. The biggest notch for her is that the second half of the year, she was on a roster with so many unknown quantities and still excelled. Seriously, the only other wrestler in Smackdown’s women’s division whom I’d put on Lynch’s level is Nikki Bella, and I’m not sure they had any interaction with each other in the ring, let alone a singles match.

Brock Jahnke: For people who care only for “great matches,” I’m sure Becky Lynch is nothing but an afterthought. What she may lack in blow-away matches she more than makes up for with consistency. She’s far more technically sound than her Four Horsewomen counterparts, and combined with quite a charming and realistic character, I found myself enjoying her more in 2016 than many of her contemporaries.

Ryan Neely: Becky Lynch is one of those wrestlers I always enjoy watching, and I think she’s the best in-ring worker of the Four Horsewomen. Besides being obviously very skilled, she has a fun charisma when she’s wrestling that I think helps endear her to crowds and that has helped make her among the best in-ring babyfaces in the company, and given the way WWE usually writes their babyfaces, that’s no small feat.

Dirk Kessler: Who would have thought that Becky Lynch would be at the edge of outshining Sasha Banks? It is legit to say that Becky Lynch was Charlotte's best feud partner in 2016. She has all the tools for a good match and botches significantly less than some of her colleagues. Her passionate work always transforms into great energy and connects with the audience.

Frank McCormick: The first Smackdown Women’s Champion! The Pun-isher! The Lass-Kicker! The Sorta-Steampunk-I-Think?-For-Some-Reason? Irish Lady! –– is number one on my TWB 100 ballot.

In the ring, her “Straight Fire” offense is credible and effective, and her energy infectious to the crowds. In a year where I increasingly put wrestling on as background noise, Lynch’s matches were one of the few I consistently paid actual attention to. And “consistency” is perhaps Becky’s watchword. She has great matches, she has good matches, but I’ve yet to see her have a truly bad match. Her dedication to her craft shines through in every match, and the crowd responds to that.

It was not an easy task she was given following the brand split: take a small group of women, none of whom were her fellow “Horsewomen,” and establish a credible Women’s Division. But she put her working boots on and got to grappling, and here we are. She has not only succeeded (yes, yes, with the help of some good writing and of course her fellow women), but exceeded. The RAW Women’s Division was predicted to be the powerhouse, but it is the Smackdown Women’s Division that now sets the standard, and it is her leadership that took it there. Who else, then, could be more deserving of my top ballot spot?

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11. John Cena
Points: 4130
Number of Ballots: 50
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Brian Brown)
Last Year’s Ranking: 4th Place

TH: The year 2016 seemed like it would be the new normal for Cena, splitting time between Hollywood and WWE on the infamous HBK Schedule in the latter part of the year after missing out on the first chunk with an injury. Still, a couple of months of Cena is better than a whole year of some other top guys. He made the most of his limited time in WWE working absolute bangers against AJ Styles most of the year. Seriously, the SummerSlam match was an epic worthy of poetry and song. Cena has given most of his life to WWE, but it appears he’s finally winding down. It’s a damn shame since now he seems to have mastered the art of the WWE main event match.

Brock Jahnke: In 2016, Cena had 50 matches, the least he’s had in a single year since 2001. Only 12 of those were televised, with seven of them against AJ Styles. How could I rank him so highly, outranking people who had hundreds of matches? It’s pretty simple, I think. Cena’s matches were must-see TV for me. Not necessarily due to quality, as only three or four of those matches were what I’d consider above “good”, but due to his performances in them. In the waning years of his career, Cena knows how to best make use of his time, creating matches that are just as intriguing as they are simple, even with opponents that I don’t like.

Dirk Kessler: John Cena more and more into WWE's late-career big-match worker. For a third year in a row, he has delivered the best worked, big match series in WWE. After Brock Lesnar in 2014 and Owens in 2015, he delivered match of the year caliber with AJ Styles. I don't know when, yet at some point in that time Cena must have pulled a face turn on me.

Scott Raychel: If you somehow still think John Cena can't wrestle, you're a sad, sad idiot boy.

Elliot Imes: He gets on the list for an admittedly abbreviated run (June to October), but during that run he put on classics with AJ Styles, and proved that he is decidedly not extending his career to be a jerk, but because he still has a useful purpose.

Frank McCormick: Much as with AJ Styles, I have a problem with John Cena, though not at all for the same reasons. While AJ Styles’s personal views dampen my enthusiasm for him, for the most part my problems with Cena are directly connected to his in-ring work.

Over the past few years, he has put in some of the best work of his career. Whatever you think of his character or story, he is a great wrestler. His strength, agility, and speed are incredible. He’s taken the influx of indie darlings and ran with them, showing he can “workrate” anyone. For me, though, the problem is that I can never entirely lose myself in one of his matches. There is always, always, always that moment when he takes my suspension of disbelief and Attitude Adjusts it to dust. He always goes just a little over-the-top with his selling, or just a little campy with his facial expressions, or just a little “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, this isn’t real and ‘LOL Cena Wins!’” It is infuriating! It is like he takes a match seriously, until he decides not to, and thus lessens its artistic impact. It makes me viscerally indignant, and it is why, while still in my top ten, he doesn’t crack the top five.

Photo Credit:
10. Dash Wilder
Points: 4424
Number of Ballots: 56
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Mat Morgan, Cole W. Bradley, Vincent Piccolo)
Last Year’s Ranking: 82nd Place

TH: Poor Wilder always gets the short end of the stick when discussing the Revival. I find it curious that Scott Dawson got five first place votes as a sign that the team was the best thing in wrestling in 2016, and Wilder couldn’t even get the second place vote on two of those ballots. I don’t think the discrepancy between the two is great enough for that kind of disparity in votes and points to take place. Regardless, Wilder, like early-year rival Jason Jordan, has morphed wonderfully from Performance Center create-a-wrestler body template to an actual, fully-formed pro wrestler with an appropriate niche and a skillset all his own. No one, and I mean no one, hits the surprise chop block to the knee like Wilder does either.

Brock Jahnke: While not as great in my eyes as his partner, Wilder does more than hold up his end of the team. He acts as the beefy base for his team, the foundation underneath the ornate monument that is Dawson. Without him, the team doesn’t work as well as it does, and considering that I found them to be the best thing going in WWE in 2016, it’d be hard to exclude him from my list.

Ryan Neely: WWE’s interest in tag team wrestling waxes and wanes, and it’s no coincidence that in all of the best matches during NXT’s tag team renaissance this year, the Revival was the common ingredient. They are incredible together.

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9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Points: 4568
Number of Ballots: 56
Highest Vote: 1st Place (The Masked Lutefisk)
Last Year’s Ranking: 61st Place

TH: In his best matches, no one was better than Nakamura. The Zayn match was one of the best in NXT, hell, WWE history because he was at full tilt against a game opponent. Even when he wasn’t at his best, Nakamura had flashes, glimmers of showing off his best in the world caliber repertory. But I couldn’t rank him too high because he mailed it in way too often, whether it was the lack of urgency during key spots in a match or forgetting to sell body parts he spent a good amount of time setting up.

Joey O.: I only knew Nakamura by name and reputation before he made us all want to see him & Sami Zayn "fight for-ev-er." Now my wife and I own a gingerbread cookie Christmas ornament of him. How has it only been a year since he arrived in NXT?

Elliot Imes: No one could have expected Nakamura's debut match to be as electric as it was, but the readiness of that crowd to accept him was a big help. That readiness and electricity extended everywhere he went. I saw him at a live NXT show, and the room just changes when he's there. Everyone wants to see him, to touch him, to get some small piece of that charisma of his that cannot be denied. Oh, and he brought his blistering style to a grander stage with very little change-up.

Photo Credit:
8. Scott Dawson
Points: 4701
Number of Ballots: 56
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Gio Castillo, Mat Morgan, Cole W Bradley, Vincent Piccolo, Patrick Kay)
Last Year’s Ranking: 72nd Place

TH: Actually, circling back to Wilder’s blurb, I do think that Dawson probably rates higher than Wilder with many people because he LOOKS the part, which is both understandable and completely against the rules of the TWB 100. Regardless, Dawson is a grinder, expert at wrenching in the resthold but making it look like a real live submission, pounding in those fists, or cheating when the ref isn’t looking. Some people talk about how they live their gimmicks; hell, the Revival do that on promos. But in the ring, they both definitely embody what being an old school grinder is all about. I was skeptical at them carrying banners for the tag division at the beginning of the year, but with every lights-out match they had vs. a variety of opponents, they kept proving me wronger and wronger. Their feud with #DIY eclipsed even their series of matches with American Alpha, and at the time, I thought they were the best the NXT tag team division was going to get.

Brock Jahnke: It’s funny that people actually consider the Revival some sort of throwback team, as I’d say they have more in common with the Young Bucks than Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson. One way that they are pretty old school, though, and especially Dawson in particular, is in making every movement in the ring the most effective it can be. Whether he’s mugging for the camera, setting up for the next spot, or stooging around for his opponents, there are few people in WWE who understand how to minimize their effort while maximizing results better than Dawson.

Ryan Neely: I honestly have no idea how you separate Dash and Dawson. They gel together as a unit as well as anything I’ve ever seen.

Joshua Browns: Had him at number two on my ballot, and I have to say I’m more than a little surprised that Dawson didn’t make the top five. The Revival was featured in four of my top ten matches of 2017, and Dawson is the engine of the team.

Scott Raychel: The Revival are the current prime example of how wrestlers can elevate themselves to the forefront of the pro graps zeitgeist with just pure wrestling ability alone. Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder look white bread as hell, but their in-ring prowess is insane. Every time Dawson throws himself between his opposing tag partners to stop a hot tag, an angel get its wings. The Revival's best two out of three falls match with #DIY is the best tag team match in NXT history, and while their opponents deserve some credit, the same type of magic would not have happened if it were any other team besides the Top Guys standing across from them.

Butch Rosser: Bizarrely, I thought I was being some sort of rebel with putting the ex-Mechanic in my silver medal spot on a list like this. The refreshing heel in 2017 that still wants to be booed, you're tempted to say it's all about the little things with him until you realize it's all little things leading to a sum greater than the parts. Also, there IS the matter of the instant classic title defense in Brooklyn (that made my top 10 Match of the Year list) being followed up by an instant even classicer best of three falls title switch with #DIY in Toronto (that was my second-favorite match of the year).

Mat Morgan: If Dawson and Wilder could have shared my number one spot they would have, but instead Dawson got it. The Revival are like the pro wrestling equivalent of that TV show that knows you know every single convention of how TV shows work and plays with those visual signifiers relentlessly and effectively to throw you off the plot. Their work with American Alpha and #DIY, and how they piled false finish upon false finish upon false finish upon false finish, is to me the most significant purely in-ring work of 2016. Hopefully WWE doesn't fuck it up in the transition to the main roster, but if they do I'll always have those Takeover matches.

Cole W Bradley: The single best professional wrestler of 2016 was two men. If wrestling is a narrative art form (and it is), then nobody did a better job of using the form to tell stories in the ring than the Revival. They show an intuitive grasp of the physicality of character work and how to pace a match that puts them head and shoulders above their peers, and managed to electrify the NXT tag division in a way that other teams with better pedigrees on paper never could. If there was a better match this year than their title match at Toronto, and as good as DIY are, only Dawson and Wilder would give us something as beautiful as grabbing each other's hands to desperately prevent a dual tapout. Both men equally deserve the title of best wrestler of 2016, but since TH doesn't allow ties, I'm giving the win to Scott Dawson cause he has better facial hair.

Photo Credit:
7. Cesaro
Points: 4763
Number of Ballots: 56
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year’s Ranking: 5th Place

TH: WWE was down in-ring in 2016 from my vantage point for a number of reasons that may or may not be related to each other. Cesaro’s reason for not being his usual top-ten self on my ballot was partially disuse (can’t rank him if I don’t see him), but partially because when he was on screen, he was trying too hard. Trying too hard? How the fuck can someone try too hard? Well, the HOSS WARS with Sheamus were great, and the tag team that followed was somehow better. But a lot of what misfired was tied to Cesaro trying to do Will Ospreay shit too many times and it not working because the dudes basing for him were either too little or too inexperienced to handle it, which may seem like a damnation of his opponents. However, when you’re the one trying to do the spots, maybe you should know what the deal is before trying them? Still, his biggest crime was being too ambitious, which really, is that a crime? Cesaro still had a pretty darn spiffy year for the most part.

Scott Raychel: The Swiss Superman is just the most perfect wrestling specimen in the sport right now. Everything he does just looks and feels like impossible magic. His M. Bison spinning uppercut off the ropes is one of the most gorgeously executed moves in wrestling. He managed to make a best of seven series with Sheamus entertaining all the way to the very end. His hot tags are some of the most fun moments you'll ever see in a tag team match. Cesaro can just do no wrong. Split him from Sheamus and give the man a title already!

Joey O.: Once again, every single thing Cesaro does in his matches is flawless, entertaining and incredibly athletic. He keeps adding more to his arsenal and moveset. He made the most of being joined at the hip to Sheamus for far too much of 2016 and it seems will perennially be one step away from a full main eventer. Imagine all the matches we're missing out on by keeping him away from Owens, Jericho, Rollins, Samoa Joe, etc...

Elliot Imes: All he did was eff around and make us enjoy Sheamus. That's something Vince McMahon and WWE couldn't do with like six years of effort.

Frank McCormick: Really, what needs to be said about Cesaro’s greatness? What even can be said that hasn’t already been? The man is The Peak of Technique, the Swiss Superman, and the Very European epitome of pure wrestling ability. Whether as the best highflyer base around (perhaps the best in wrestling history, thanks, no doubt, to all those years in Chikara letting tiny dudes bounce on him like a trampoline), a tag team wrestler, or a singles performer, he is The Standard by which all other dudes must measure their game. I mean, the man just decided to add a 619 to his repertoire one day, and, poof! Rey Mysterio who?

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
6. Johnny Gargano
Points: 4795
Number of Ballots: 59
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Brian Coulter)
Last Year’s Ranking: 74th Place

TH: I came into 2016 not believing Gargano had a ceiling higher than a rich person’s Davey Richards. It’s incredibly easy to point to the #DIY tag matches in NXT as the tipping point in that opinion, but honestly, Gargano proved that in addition to being perhaps the best babyface worker in the country if not the world, that he’s got a tremendously long way to go before he hits his true ceiling. Like, forget even that the best match of the Cruiserweight Classic pitted him vs. tag partner Tommaso Ciampa. His EVOLVE shit blew every other member of the roster who wasn’t already in Catch Point out of the water. I wanna know when he flipped the switch. And unlike Matt Riddle, who into rarefied air on my ballot because he kept it short, stupid, Gargano didn’t seem to significantly shorten the average length of his matches. What he did do was figure out how to feng-shui the spots into something that worked over that long period of time. He now can go from a tribute act to a main event company ace to potentially being one. That’s an impressive feat.

Joey O.: Gargano was a delight to watch in the ring all year long. His and Ciampa's matches with The Revival were outstanding and I thought their one-on-one match during the CWC was very underrated.

Elliot Imes: The natural sympathetic hero of #DIY, Gargano takes a beating so well and comes back from that beating even better.