Thursday, March 30, 2017

The 2016 TWB 100 Slow Release: #40-#21

Fenix is the first entry in today's portion of the list.
Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
The list draws closer and closer to its climax.

40. Fenix
Points: 2038
Number of Ballots: 30
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Brandon Kay)
Last Year’s Ranking: 25th Place

TH: Fenix didn’t have the dizzying highs that he had in 2015, but his work in Lucha Underground alone was enough to place him on my ballot. Few wrestlers have the knack for the moment that he does, and his big match aptitude will lead him to great places.

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39. Alexa Bliss
Points: 2074
Number of Ballots: 36
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Frank McCormick)
Last Year’s Ranking: 87th Place

TH: She hasn’t made the Sasha Leap just yet, but she put in consistent performances across the board most of the year. Her facial expressions and body language make up for her trouble getting into position, because those things may be more effective at drawing a crowd into a match. Once she puts it all together, she’ll rocket up the list.

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38. Rich Swann
Points: 2098
Number of Ballots: 38
Highest Vote: 13th Place (Nick Ahlhelm)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Can you handle this? Swann took to WWE much like his fellow former indie stars Cesaro and Sami Zayn, ramping his game up from his already solid-to-stellar indie work. He was one of the few people putting in great work from jump on 205 Live, especially in his title matches against Brian Kendrick. What really took me about him in the last year was adding that savate kick to his offense. It’s really on point, and it works so well as a finish.

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37. Sheamus
Points: 2122
Number of Ballots: 39
Highest Vote: 14th Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year’s Ranking: 42nd Place

TH: Sheamus has always been the unsung hero of WWE in-ring, always putting in stellar efforts and having his contributions diminished because he was in there with Daniel Bryan or Damien Sandow or Alberto del Rio. Granted, he was down to start the year, but after the brand split, business really picked up for him as he had a snug, tense best-of-seven with Cesaro that segued into them becoming the most surprising yet if you think about it least surprising good teams in WWE. He may never be recognized for his work, but Sheamus will almost always bring the goods.

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36. Big E
Points: 2153
Number of Ballots: 41
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Dirk Kessler)
Last Year’s Ranking: 13th Place

TH: Large Ettore has been screaming for a singles run forever, but in the interim, at least he’s still putting up baller tag matches with either one of his New Day partners. He hit hard, bumped fearlessly, and had a knack for the big spot when the time called for it.

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35. Chris Jericho
Points: 2184
Number of Ballots: 35
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Joe Drilling)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

Ryan Neely: Jericho will likely go down as one of the most memorable wrestlers of 2016, but in-ring performance drops him down at least a bit. He can still put together a fun match and a heated feud, though, and I still pop when he hits his signature moves.

Joey O.: My favorite wrestler eeevvverrrrrr is still reinventing himself and working at a level he shouldn't be at this age. (Have you heard he owes it all to DDP Yoga? Did you know you can get a promo code?) While running acting circles around everyone on WWE TV and reinventing himself again (and again), Jericho had a great feud with AJ Styles then consistently worked with the main eventers on RAW the rest of the year. You know what happens when you have this great a year, Y2J? You just made the TWB 100 list!!

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34. Seth Rollins
Points: 2252
Number of Ballots: 36
Highest Vote: 9th Place (Ryan Neely)
Last Year’s Ranking: 6th Place

Ryan Neely: I only get to grade Rollins on about seven months of wrestling, but that didn’t lead to too much of a penalty, as he’s is a guy whose wrestling is everything I want from the sport. He can fight with any style that’s needed, and if he’d wrestled a full year like this, he’d have been in my top three, at least. My personal favorite was the Shield Triple Threat, a match that I feel like gets overlooked by people now.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
33. Heidi Lovelace
Points: 2270
Number of Ballots: 31
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Brandon Kay)
Last Year’s Ranking: 66th Place

TH: Few wrestlers ever really “get” professional wrestling’s zeitgeist. This statement isn’t necessarily a commentary on THEM KIDS TODAY, but for every Ric Flair or Steve Austin, a hundred other shmucks got into it cuz they had a great body or could talk shit or whatever. Even now, you get a bunch of people who just wanna get their shit in. If Heidi Lovelace “gets her shit in,” a huge part of that is getting her ass kicked for a bulk of the match. Someone of her stature is built to take a beating but then capture the underdog wave and make a comeback to capture the crowd’s collective heart. It’s an oeuvre she’s been slowly mastering until this past year, when she took it, especially in Chikara, and ran. Even against foes like Kimber Lee who weren’t much bigger than her, she found a way to engage and create spectacles every time she hit the ring. Had she not been signed by WWE, she would have become one of Chikara’s aces this year as well as taking bigger steps in other promotions around the country. And it’s all because she knows how to be a pro wrestler. She gets it. And it’s going to take her to great heights, even if she never has to say a word (and she’s fucking awesome at that too, as an aside since that stuff doesn’t count here).

Bob Godfrey: I know we're supposed to rate the wrestlers purely on their in ring work in the year 2016, but I think that may be impossible. The promos, the history, it all adds up to how we view the matches that are happening. If the matches are disconnected from all that they can't really be any good because it ceases to be art and is just an athletic show. I say all this because I voted Heidi so highly on the strength of one night. March 19th, 2016. Chikara's Secret of the Ooze. Heidi had earned a title shot against Princess Kimber Lee. Before her match she cut an impassioned promo about why she believed she should be the one with that title, weaving that one main event at some random show into her and Kim's last year plus of history in Chikara. She in less than two minutes gave a fantastic promo that shaped the story of the match that would follow it. She went into the match where she and Kim told an excellent story about a pair of best friends putting that friendship aside because the title was more important than anything else to both of them. The match was excellent because of the pathos Heidi had put behind it. This match and the promo before it, and the year of story that preceded it were wrestling as an art form. This wasn't Heidi's only good match last year, not even close. But it's what sticks out in my mind about her 2016 a year later and why she's become one of my favorite wrestlers.

Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
32. Pentagon, Jr./Dark
Points: 2388
Number of Ballots: 34
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Pablo Alva, Jon Hunt)
Last Year’s Ranking: 18th Place

Scott Raychel: Pentagon Jr. or Dark or 0M (if ya nasty) continues to be one of the best and most gleefully violent elements of Lucha Underground. He had a super underrated, bonkers triple threat with Prince Puma and Mil Muertes but his crowning achievement of 2016 was his gauntlet match with the Black Lotus Tribe, which is a must-see for any wrestling fan.

Elliot Imes: He deserves to be here just for his work in the episode where he fought the entire Black Lotus tribe, both for his masterful selling and his brutal offense. He still remains a magnetic character.

Jon Hunt: Pentagon Jr. has been a highlight of Lucha Underground since the first season and has carried his success there over to the US indies. He has had fun brawls with Sami Callihan and crazy spotfests with The Young Bucks, and has finally answered the age old question of "how awesome would it be if there was a crazy skeleton-ninja guy that cursed a lot in pro wrestling?"

Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
31. Jeff Cobb/Matanza Cueto
Points: 2608
Number of Ballots: 40
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Brandon Kay)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Honestly, I ranked him on my ballot based on his work as Matanza alone, but he did the “unstoppable monster” stuff so well I had to. He took a character that could have been boring and rote and made it fun and exciting. You knew everyone put in front of him via Dario’s Dial of Doom was going to get murked, but he was able to inject the drama into the match through dynamic selling and basing for his usually smaller opponents. I can’t wait to see more of him without his mask around the indies.

Joshua Browns: – I honestly can’t understand how this guy isn’t already in the WWE system. Of the new breed of “hoss flyers”, he might have the most potential. It’s almost a shame that the Matanza character is supposed to be such a dominant monster, because I think most fans who only know him from Lucha Underground haven’t yet had a chance to see exactly how good this guy really is.

Scott Raychel: Jeff Cobb is a HOSS. He is also very good at making his opponents look great while simultaneously throwing them around the ring. As the monster Matanza Cueto on Lucha Underground, he made everyone look good in defeat.

Elliot Imes: A mountain of a man who can pick up buildings, or at least could give a building a good shake. Cobb absolutely shouldn't be able to move the way he does in the ring, and he seems to have no fatigue ever.

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30. Dean Ambrose
Points: 2660
Number of Ballots: 43
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Joe Drilling)
Last Year’s Ranking: 10th Place

TH: I feel like Ambrose gets an undeservedly bad rap because the stretch from Mania through his feud with Chris Jericho wasn’t as good in the ring as people wanted it to be. Look, you could put Sandman in a garbage match with Brock Lesnar, and if Lesnar refuses to take any hardcore bumps, it’s not going to be as good. I actually enjoyed that match, and it was all mostly on Ambrose bumping his ass off, giving off frenetic energy. And to be honest, pardon my throwing people who voted for Chris Jericho on this poll under the bus, but who the fuck had good matches with him, let alone great ones? I could maybe, maybe grant you AJ Styles, but Styles is one of the greatest workers of all-time. I don’t think Ambrose is on that level, which is one reason why he was around the low-30s on my ballot instead of higher. The other reason is he insists on doing a tope suicida despite it looking worse than David Duke’s Twitter avatar. Ambrose is still closer to great than he is closer to bad, and one need look no further than his Royal Rumble and his matches with guys like Styles, Dolph Ziggler, and The Miz to show that he’s still more than capable of ruling a WWE ring.

Ryan Neely: This was a hard one to place for me. Give ambrose an opponent who works to his strengths and a feud that really means something, and he is a pretty strong worker (like in the Triple H or Styles matches), but when he doesn’t have the right chemistry or an unmotivated opponent, it can be a bit of a mess (like with Lesnar or Jericho).

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29. (Handsome) Rusev
Points: 2695
Number of Ballots: 42
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Dirk Kessler)
Last Year’s Ranking: 21st Place

TH: Rusev could be an elite worker if WWE let him, but it just seems happy putting him in feuds where he’s at best going to end up going eight minutes in service of a humiliating narrative on pay-per-view. Which I guess is fine, since he’s very good at doing that too. The closest he got to a big feud in 2016 was his one vs. Roman Reigns, which produced some pretty good encounters. But it still left me wanting more.

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28. Finn Bálor
Points: 2939
Number of Ballots: 41
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (For All You Kids Out There, Joe Drilling)
Last Year’s Ranking: 7th Place

TH: Bálor hasn’t really impressed me in the ring as much as his entrances have, but he’s slowly selling me on this grand reputation that people who loved him as Prince Devitt have given him. The Shinsuke Nakamura matches he had were good almost solely because Bálor gave so much of a shit that he willed Nakamura to get out of auto-pilot for a second or two. And the SummerSlam match vs. Rollins was almost exclusively watchable if not good because of him. It’s a shame he got hurt in that match, because I was interested to see how his run on RAW would have played out. Oh well, he has this year…

Elliot Imes: I have him ranked high with the caveat that I've never been full-stop blown away by his work. I'm still waiting for that moment. But for now, I'll settle for a captivating presence incapable of putting on a boring match.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
27. Matt Riddle
Points: 2997
Number of Ballots: 36
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Willow Maclay, Kris Zellner, Devon Hales)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: BRO! BRO! BRO! Matt Riddle took indie wrestling by storm in 2016 for good reason. He transitioned from MMA to pro wrestling as well as anyone in history, maybe even better than anyone else in history. The fact that he became one of the must-see workers in the world in such a short time speaks to his dedication, but how did he do it? Forget that he has insane charisma inside the squared circle, that he works #grapplefuck, or that worked spots inspired by MMA (as opposed to faux worked MMA like Undertaker and Shane McMahon tried doing at Mania, yuck) play exceptionally well. The best thing Riddle has done was keep it short. While everyone else out here aside from Sami Callihan was trying to work grandiose epics, Riddle realized that he didn’t get paid by the hour and that he could get as much bang for his buck in half the time. The amazing thing is he told complete stories in those shortened timeframes as well. You don’t need to get an extended cadre of “your shit” in to make a match work. The fact that a veritable pro graps rookie gets that speaks volumes. I hope he sticks around and does this for a good long time.

Brock Jahnke: The best thing I can say about Riddle is that he’s charming; his laid back weed bro demeanor is infectious, extending to his in-ring work as well. Even if he still very much feels like a fanboy two years into the business, his particular brand of strikes-and-submission-based wrestling is very fun to watch and helped to freshen up the stale EVOLVE roster in 2016.

Willow Maclay: We are witnessing a renaissance at the moment as the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts successfully coexists within Pro Wrestling, and I don't mean that in the way Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle tried to fuse the two back in 2009. With Matt Riddle we are seeing something akin to a revolution where someone who made his name in the UFC has crossed over into wrestling and took to it like a fish to water, while still maintaining his athleticism, intensity and physicality he was known for in the UFC. Matt Riddle only started wrestling professionally a couple of years ago, but he has already risen to the top of the indies and will no doubt take Chris Hero's spot this year. However, his impact will go much deeper than having great matches and being booked on every show. His impact is that he has shown the way for the next chapter of professional wrestling, and it is through an extension of worked mixed martial arts. We're already seeing an influx of newer talent capitalize on these ideas like Shayna Baszler and Nicole Savoy. That is already an attribute to the effect Riddle is having on the indies, but none of this would be possible if he weren't such an incredible worker. Matt Riddle is a force of nature within a wrestling ring.

All of his moves look great upon impact. His submissions look deadly, and in turn he makes others look dangerous while being in holds. His sense of pacing is perfect and found otherworldly chemistry in 2016 with Chris Hero. Whenever those two had a match it shook the wrestling world by storm, my corner of it anyway, but what was so beautiful about those matches is the momentum they created in physicality and offensive moves. One would have to knock the other one out & they proceeded to do so beautifully. As an offensive wrestler Riddle is only matches by Styles & the already mentioned Chris Hero. He had tremendous bouts with grapplers and submission based wrestlers as well where his most stunning work was perhaps with "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams and the other members of the Catch Point stable. Twenty-sixteen was the year of Evolve, but additionally it was the year of Bro. Twenty-seventeen looks to be more of the same, and I couldn't be happier about it, because no one made me enjoy watching pro wrestling in quite the same way last year than Matt Riddle.

Joshua Browns: Finally, an answer to the age-old question, “what would happen if Ken Shamrock had Kurt Angle’s charisma and love for pro wrestling, along with a huge weed habit?”. I don’t have Riddle as high as other folks based solely on the fact that I haven’t yet had a chance to see as much of his work as others, but what little I’ve seen has been super impressive.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
26. Drew Gulak
Points: 3046
Number of Ballots: 46
Highest Vote: 1st Place (David Burszan)
Last Year’s Ranking: 34th Place

TH: Nothing grates on me more than when people say Gulak is boring. Boring? Really? You may not like the #grapplefuck, that’s fine. He did a lot of it, I mean, a whole ton of it. He was one of EVOLVE’s Four Pillars of Heaven in 2016 anyway (along with Timothy Thatcher, Matt Riddle, and Johnny Gargano). But Gulak did that style with an intensity that no one else even touched. Riddle was great at it, but his oeuvre is cool and collected. Hot Sauce Williams was still finding his footing. Thatcher tried to be that intense, and I’m not denigrating him because I loved his 2016 as well, but he didn’t do it as well or especially as accessibly as Gulak did. But even then, the EVOLVE stuff was only part of his special year. I mean, he worked as the ironic straight man in the Gentleman’s Club in Chikara for laughs. He did a carny-circus tag team with his “brother” Rory in CZW and other local indies. He’s already got the technical-slanted WWE five moves of doom style down pat in less than half-a-year with the company AND mostly in an enhancement role so far. And last but not least, his work under a secret hood in Chikara, which I will not divulge for reasons, was superb. Hell, he even worked one of the best Memphis-style street fights with Thatcher in EVOLVE, which was totally out of character for those two in that promotion. But even with those prestige matches, and he had a whole bunch with a variety of opponents, out of the picture, he did little things well that put people over. For example, during the tag gauntlet at King of Trios, he allowed the Sea Stars to put a net on him, one which he wrestled in for the rest of his time in the match. Sure, it was a good way to pop the dorks like me who thought him quirky, but a Chikara audience has a lot of kids, and those kids are gonna see him in a net and think the Sea Stars are the coolest wrestlers in the world for using it. Really, you can’t give me a Drew Gulak moment from last year and sell it as a negative. He was golden.

Brock Jahnke: One of the best ring generals in the world, there’s one word I’d use to describe Gulak: consistency. Put him with any opponent in the world, from undeserving Wrestling Observer Newsletter Award winners to Chikara rookies, and he’ll make something worth watching with his rock-solid fundamentals and great technical prowess. In 2016 he directed lesser opponents to greatness and held his own against his betters, making for a few of my favorite matches of the year.

Joshua Browns: Drew Gulak is the best technical wrestler in the world right now, full stop. Go back and watch Gulak/Zack Sabre, Jr. from the Cruiserweight Classic – Gulak may not be quite as fluid and flexible as Sabre, but he’s got the ferocity and believability that Sabre is sorely lacking. It kills me that he’s essentially enhancement talent in the WWE’s cruiserweight division. Also, dude wrestled most of a match in a net. A NET!!!

Scott Raychel: I personally don't care for technical wrestling, so I was more than pleasantly surprised when Drew Gulak proved me wrong on at least one occasion when he and Mike Quackenbush went hold for hold and held an entire room in their palms of their hands for 15 minutes for his final indie match before heading to the big leagues. If anyone can make a name for True Graps or whatever, it's the Legal Eagle, Drew Gulak.

Joey O.: Drew Gulak had two of my favorite Chikara matches in 2016 and they couldn't have been more different. In the King of Trios tag team gauntlet, the Sea Stars threw a fishing net on him, which he proceeded to wrestle inside of while tagging with Orange Cassidy. (Gulak kept the fishing net on at his table during intermission and when I talked to the Sea Stars about it, one of them told me they did it because they heard Gulak likes "catch wrestling," thus making me a big Sea Stars fan for pun reasons.) Then in November, he tore it up in a straight-forward match vs. "That Ol' Juke Joint" Lucas Calhoun. Oh yeah, he also impressed the WWE brass during the CWC enough to get a contact and represent Philadelphia on an international stage.

Butch Rosser: Gulak was so good he ended up in the unfortunate role of almost always making the rest of the nascent cruiserweight division look good by putting up a steady stream of above-average matches that seemed to disappear almost the moment after they finished. But his long and winding Catch Point road finally ending in Evolve, including in a myriad of fine matches with Timothy Thatcher, was where he really got to shine and show off his grapplefuck mastery. I, for one, look forward to a Better 205 Live coming to a Tuesday night near me.

Photo Credit:
25. Jason Jordan
Points: 3056
Number of Ballots: 44
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Andrew Smith)
Last Year’s Ranking: 23rd Place

TH: Chad Gable was the dude people latched onto in American Alpha for good reason, but I thought that Jordan’s transformation from nondescript Performance Center body to the best hot tag in the company and the possible distillation of Kurt Angle’s Intensity into a single wrestler made him my favorite between the two last year. Seriously, watching him hop into the ring, throw a billion suplexes, pull down the straps, and primally scream has been a highlight of every Alpha match since they got to Smackdown.

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24. Chad Gable
Points: 3134
Number of Ballots: 43
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year’s Ranking: 17th Place

TH: Gable’s upward trajectory took a bit of a hit in 2016 thanks to some questionable booking and featuring the Smackdown tag division, but while he didn’t exactly come of age as the next Kurt Angle, he developed into a nice hybrid of Angle and Ricky Morton. It’s actually a skillset that will help him if he ever goes solo, but remaining in the Alpha tag team wouldn’t be a bad fate. While Jordan for me has been the bigger pop between the two, Gable’s underdog spirit and technical mastery have been huge pluses for me as well.

Photo via Lucha Underground Facebook
23. Ricochet/Prince Puma
Points: 3270
Number of Ballots: 40
Highest Vote: 1st Place (David Kincannon)
Last Year’s Ranking: 15th Place

TH: Honestly, most superlatives are becoming insufficiently effective at describing Ricochet and his work, regardless of promotion. Whether it was leaping across The Temple as Prince Puma, dazzling in his EVOLVE appearances, or even making the rounds at places like House of Hardcore, everything he did in 2016 was worthy of big praise. He had tremendous matches against a wide variety of opponents, and made his aerial acrobatics look way too easy. As long as he’s wrestling and I see him, he’s going to be on my ballot.

Ryan Neely: I mostly know him as Prince Puma, with some YouTube videos of Richochet throw in. On Lucha Underground, even without a lot of character on his side, he’s always made his matches stand out. And because LU burns through feuds in like two to three weeks and loves to show off dream matchups, he got to fight against like everyone in 2016.

Joshua Browns: Ho hum, another year of being the greatest American high-flyer ever.

David Hobbs: I remain unconvinced that the man isn't a cyborg. No man should be able to do a springboard shooting star press so high that takes him out of frame and follow it by doing a northern lights float-over into a brainbuster on a man the size of Mil Muertes. In my favorite 2016 match, it seemed like he imbued Rey Mysterio with some of his superpowers, letting him do things like pull off the old springboard hurricanrana flash pin from Rey's WCW days.

Elliot Imes: He is not human. He is not one of us. He is also handsome. And he has the best abs. It's all just so unfair, but so fun to see.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
22. Chris Hero
Points: 3327
Number of Ballots: 38
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Courtney Rose, Francis Adu, Jr., Hayley Erin, Dylan Hales)
Last Year’s Ranking: 29th Place

TH: I didn’t “get” Hero on the level that some of my voting peers did. Four first place votes and scads more in the top five will give someone a reputation. But I couldn’t knock him too far down my ballot because I still enjoyed the hell out of him more often than not. Something about a big wrestler beating the ever-loving shit out of smaller dudes will always appeal to me.

Brock Jahnke: In the WDKW100, which includes wrestlers working outside of the United States, I had Hero as my number one. Excluding his European work drops him down a few spots for me, but even then, it’s hard to not consider him one of the best in the world. If I’m merely counting the number of “good to great” matches a person had in 2016, no one beats Hero. He mainly sticks to a predictable formula, but in the realm of subtlety, emotion, and elevation of opponents, there are scant few better than the Knockout Artist.

Elliot Imes: My wife walked into the room while I was watching a Chris Hero match, and I told her how people give this guy grief for supposedly being too big. But I told her that was nonsense because he can still do things that guys more fit than him cannot. At that moment in the match, Hero did a flawless kip-up. Good timing.

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21. Kota Ibushi
Points: 3472
Number of Ballots: 46
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Andrew Rosin)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: I had an e-mail conversation with co-founder Dylan Hales about Ibushi’s standing in the list, and he said that he thought he’d be wildly overrated. Four matches in the Cruiserweight Classic might be the definition of a small sample size, but honestly, when those four matches were the caliber of what Ibushi turned in, including the only good match TJ Perkins had in a WWE ring in 2016, like, I have to give credit where it’s due. He wasn’t in my favorite match in the tourney (luv u, Johnny Wrestling and Tomato Chomper), but he was by far the MVP of it. The CWC was my favorite wrestling-related thing to happen all year, and maybe the combination of the two led me to put Ibushi a little higher on my ballot than he should have been. But fuck it, I have to recognize greatness when I see it, and Ibushi earned every high vote he’s getting on this poll and then some.

Scott Raychel: I don't know if he had any other matches in the United States, but you only need to watch his four matches in the Cruiserweight Classic to know Kota Ibushi is one of the best wrestlers in the world. His match against Cedric Alexander was an instant classic and it was only the QUARTER FINALS. Hopefully he returns next year and we get that Kota Ibushi/Gran Metalik match we were robbed of last year.

Elliot Imes: Rover, wanderer, nomad, vagabond, call him what you will. Kota Ibushi cannot be held down by a contract. What IS a contract anyway, man? Just enjoy Ibushi when you can get him, because when he does show up, he is a brilliant supernova of intensity and handsomeness.

David Hobbs: Where Kenny Omega was way down my list because he was good in a small number of matches that actually took place in North America, Kota Ibushi is in my top five because in a single tournament, he opened by looking like the best wrestler in the world, and somehow improved with each match. Cedric Alexander was made by his match with Ibushi, and by the time Ibushi took a Burning Hammer from Brian Kendrick, they had us convinced he could actually lose despite basically being a real-life Saiyan.

Butch Rosser: Part of me will be perennially salty that the CWC didn't conclude as millions of fans were wishing, with an Ibushi/ZSJ eight-star thirty minute bout that cured cancer and made Ted Nugent dive into an operating wood chipper, but I love that fact he knew his worth and stayed indie. The match of his I was fortunate enough to see live in October may've been the only time I cared about Bobby Roode once his entrance music ended, and we all know how he put on a match so good it pretty much got Cedric Alexander signed on the spot. It's Kota bleeping Ibushi. C'mon now.