Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The 2016 TWB 100 Slow Release: #60-#41

Kyle O'Reilly, shown here giving it to Katsuyori Shibata, opens the entry for today
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Today, the list blows through the halfway point.

60. Kyle O’Reilly
Points: 1454
Number of Ballots: 23
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Sean Orleans)
Last Year’s Ranking: 43rd Place

Elliot Imes: I mostly watched his work in Japan, but I did catch his match with Jay Lethal where he fought valiantly through a prior attack from Adam Cole, and that was the type of genius work that convinces me O'Reilly might have a real shot in WWE.

Photo Credit:
59. Kofi Kingston
Points: 1475
Number of Ballots: 32
Highest Vote: 23rd Place (Andrew Hewitt)
Last Year’s Ranking: 24th Place

TH: Kingston has had highs and lows in his WWE career, but the New Day tag team has given him his purpose. He goes into the ring in short bursts and provides energy. While booking fell into a routine for the New Day, their matches kept an air of freshness to them, and Kingston had a lot to do with it.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
58. Dalton Castle
Points: 1476
Number of Ballots: 27
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Hayley Erin)
Last Year’s Ranking: 35th Place

Butch Rosser: Ashley Remington had to die so the Boys could live. Almost without exemption, if I happened to catch anything Ring of Honor did in 2016, it was because I wanted to see the preening, grappling skills, and all around duende of the Peacock.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
57. Broken Matt Hardy
Points: 1525
Number of Ballots: 27
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Nick Ahlhelm)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Christ, Hardy has been in the business for how long, and has garnered a reputation of certain dishonor, so him coming out of nowhere and reinventing the wheel (or at least borrowing some ideas from DDT/Chikara/Kaiju/whatever and putting them on national television, just as bold) in TNA of all places was a shock. However, he came out swinging with some of the freshest material, and it wasn’t just his character or promo skills. He expanded the palette of colors in mainstream wrestling in the last year. The matches he did at the Hardy Compound were just as much wrestling as Catchpoint grapplefuck sessions at La Boom or whatever John Cena and AJ Styles did in prestige WWE spots, but they weren’t campy in spite of a greater narrative. They embraced all the B-movie charm that wrestling so badly tries to resist.

Nick Ahlhelm: He changed the game of professional wrestling with his matches at his compound. Hardy became a revolutionary nearly 20 years into his career.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
56. Fred Yehi
Points: 1622
Number of Ballots: 21
Highest Vote: 1st Place (TH)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: I have been on Fred Yehi’s bandwagon since I saw him on grainy YouTube videos in grimy gyms in the South. I didn’t know if he ever was going to be a star, but I knew that he should have been one at some point. Finally, the WWN Live folks gave him a forum, and he took off with it. He got the thread, and in 2016, he showed everyone else what I had known for, what, five years now? This guy isn’t special, because calling him special isn’t enough. He’s a dynamic pro wrestling force, taking inspiration from places people take for granted. A man stubs his toe and he jumps around and limps for hours afterwards. A woman jams her finger, and the screams curdle all blood within a quarter-mile radius. Yet, pro wrestling limb work is all about the big set pieces, the showy body parts like the arm and the leg. But Yehi smartly put the little parts, the body appendages that cause the greatest pain per square inch, and he brought them to the mainstream in the last year. He made pro wrestling smarter. How many other wrestlers are able to say that? And the fans who see him know it. Everyone reacts to him slamming down on the instep, and in turn, everyone knows that when he points at his opponent, that person is in BIG TROUBLE. He got great matches out of everyone he stepped into the ring with. It didn’t matter if he went to his roots and wrestled Colby Corino in some Southern high school or if he was going to toe to toe in the big WWN Live bar show against Zack Sabre, Jr. Yehi went all out in every match he was in, and the return on investment was bigger and better than anyone else’s in the damn country. I haven’t seen nearly enough from Mexico, Japan, or Europe to confidently say with proof, but I’d be bold enough to put that claim on the line worldwide as well.

Brock Jahnke: I’ve been watching Yehi since his backyard wrestling days, long before he turned to pro wrestling. Slowly but surely over the years he’s developed into a fantastic wrestler, melding together mindsets and elements from all corners of the Earth. In 2016, a time in which wrestling became more and more samey and routine, everything clicked for Fred Yehi, and he became a completely unique performer in pro wrestling with a style all his own. You’re not going to find a wrestler out there quite like him, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one smarter.

Photo Credit:
55. Braun Strowman
Points: 1623
Number of Ballots: 31
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Kris Zellner)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Few wrestlers did squash matches like Strowman did, and honestly, it takes maybe more effort to make a laugher keep attention that it does a set-piece prestige match. The stuff he was doing with Sami Zayn was awesome as well, even though a lot of that happened after the New Year. Strowman will place higher on the list in 2017, I guarantee you. However, he showed enough in the last year to safely make my ballot.

Ryan Neely: One of the most surprising developments of the year was Strowman’s emergence after the brand split. His size was always an obvious asset, but his speed and athleticism are downright shocking when you see them in action. He’s still raw, but the potential alone is enough to make him a blast to watch perform. I’m really interested to see how far WWE is willing to push him, because at this rate, he should be a world champion relatively soon.

Butch Rosser: RAW can be a slog. At its worst, it usually is. But the probable MVP of the brand split always brought the vicious ruckus, then paid off his summer of squash by being in a compelling feud that he eventually won against Sami Zayn that showed off him being able to put in quality matches against the highest class of opponent. It's not a matter of if he becomes Universal or WWE champion, but which one and when.

Photo Credit:
54. Brian Kendrick
Points: 1673
Number of Ballots: 32
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Frank McCormick)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Even though his work suffered once he got to RAW/205 Live, Kendrick’s run in the Cruiserweight Classic was enough to get him on my ballot. He latched onto a story thread, worked it to a tee, and even changed up everything that made him famous to fit that story in the ring. His matches with Raul Mendoza and Kota Ibushi were the stuff of legends.

Joey O.: I was a big fan of THE Brian Kendrick during his original run in WWE and happy to see him back as a grizzled veteran who could have spent the last five years roadying for the Allman Brothers and may also be a pirate?

Frank McCormick: The frankly dire straits of 205 Live/Raw’s Cruiserweight Division might make us forget just how great the CWC itself was. And a lot of that greatness has to be credited to the storytelling of one Mr. THE Brian Kendrick. Every match, every move oozed with the desperation of the hoary old alpha who knows this is his last shot before the hungry young pups finally run him down. Every grizzled veteran trick, every crazy chance, every minute of a match he clawed and scratched to win, had me in the palm of his hand. When he finally lost, he reduced Daniel Bryan to tears, and I can’t deny that I was crying with him. That is the mark of a master of the ring, and that is why he deserves my high ranking.

Photo Credit:
53. Tye Dillinger
Points: 1677
Number of Ballots: 34
Highest Vote: 10th Place (Kevin Newburn, The Masked Lutefisk, Cole W. Bradley)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Sure, NXT had better overall workers, but Dillinger may be the guy who gets classic “WWE Style” better than anyone else. He was the perfect first-opponent for guys like Andrade Almas for a reason. I’m not sure why he’s still slumming it there instead of doing things in the Smackdown midcard, but hey, no one has ever said WWE’s booking and roster management logic was good let alone impeccable. Either way, he put in some solid work in 2016 and will always be a guy you want wrestling once a week at least for you.

Butch Rosser: The problem with Full Sail following Sami Zayn with Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura as holders of the Big X is of how outsize and superpowered they seem. You're talking about a Demon and a King; it's compelling as hell to watch, but it's not exactly relatable for us common folk. Twenty-sixteen was the year they listened to the cheers the Perfect Ten was garnering and leaned into them, as NXT mainstay Dillinger went from cult favorite to favorite, period. Asuka and Nakamura may have, again, may, have been more popular than he was the night I attended an NXT live show, but not by much, and inside a ballroom that fancy I will always be amused and look back fondly on the time that the only number that seemed to exist in that building was... well, you know.

Photo Credit:
52. Bray Wyatt
Points: 1704
Number of Ballots: 31
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Nicholas Reed)
Last Year’s Ranking: 53rd Place

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
51. TJ Perkins/TJP
Points: 1718
Number of Ballots: 30
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Gio Castillo)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Look, Perkins only had one good match since getting to WWE, and it was against Kota Ibushi. I mean, anyone can look good with Tom Brady throwing him the football, right? But the truth is that Perkins did have a nice run in EVOLVE before getting to the Cruiserweight Classic, which is the bulk of the reason why he was on my ballot anyway. Some guys just don’t know how to adapt between promotions.

Photo Credit:
50. Luke Harper
Points: 1814
Number of Ballots: 29
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year’s Ranking: 20th Place

TH: Harper was another guy whose placement was clipped thanks to the injury bug, but before he got hurt, he was turning in a nice year if under the radar. He gets both how to work big but also hit the big highspots that all the smaller wrestlers love to go to. Hell, he has a better suicide dive than Dean Ambrose, although I’m pretty sure my dog does as well. Regardless, Harper has only up to go from here.

Scott Raychel: I need Luke Harper vs Cesaro in a WWE ring in my life sooner rather than later, please and thank you.

Photo Credit:
49. Will Ospreay
Points: 1818
Number of Ballots: 26
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Adam Shinder)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: I imagine that if his work abroad were eligible, Ospreay would have been closer to Ricochet on my ballot than near the bottom. However, his stuff in EVOLVE from the beginning of the year was mind-blowing even if it was just the tip of the iceberg of what he could do. If Ospreay is killing professional wrestling with what he’s doing, then I hope it dies so I can follow whatever it is he’s going to be doing in its place.

Butch Rosser: Heaven help the top ten if the Aerial Assassin expands his repertoire in North America past a small handful of ROH events. Watching a match, any match, with him and his gentleman's agreement with the laws of physics (and his evident glee over having accomplished it) was one of the things a pro graps fan could point to in 2016 and state with ease "This is why I still watch."

Elliot Imes: His work in PWG alone puts him in this list. A breathtaking performer in literally any match you put him in. Ospreay will find a way to make you gasp and throw your arms helplessly in the air as he does something insane.

Photo Credit: John Moses
48. Trevor Lee
Points: 1819
Number of Ballots: 25
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Okori Wadsworth)
Last Year’s Ranking: 52nd Place

Okori Wadsworth: The territory system of the 1970s and 1980s is gone. This is sad, even if there is a tendency to look at that era through rose-colored glasses. But in a small little building in Burlington, North Carolina, the bones of that territorial aesthetic are still there.

And leading that idea, leading that renaissance, is the CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion Trevor Lee. All of 2016, he had classics. Whether it was the 105-minute battle of endurance against Roy Wilkins, his title defense against Cedric Alexander that went 55 minutes and might be the latter’ss best match of the year (@ me Kota Ibushi fanboys), and my underrated Match of the Year candidate against Andrew Everett, everything was perfect.

This is why he was my number one vote for the TWB 100, and why he should have been yours too.

Brock Jahnke: Trevor Lee is an odd case. A regular in CWF Mid-Atlantic, PWG, AAW, and TNA, he feels like four very different wrestlers in all of those promotions. Still, regardless of whether he’s dancing around to Taylor Swift, holding down a light heavyweight division, or having mega-long matches in the best-booked promotion in the world, he’s able to bring a certain consistency of quality to nearly everything he does, highlighted by a number of the best matches of the year. Even if he had stopped wrestling after the Wilkins match in February, I might have ranked him in my top 20.

Photo Credit:
47. Bobby Roode
Points: 1832
Number of Ballots: 33
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Chris Harrington)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: It’s easy to discount Roode as an entrance and a theme song, but the guy knows how to work old-school style matches and get crowds invested in them. His facial expressions and exaggerated selling on babyface comebacks alone got him on my ballot.

Photo Credit:
46. Gran Metalik
Points: 1836
Number of Ballots: 33
Highest Vote: 9th Place (Frank McCormick)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Look, Kota Ibushi may have been the dude from the Cruiserweight Classic, but Metalik was a close second. He was in the tournament’s opening match and set the tone for the entire ten-week slate with slick highspots and cat-like agility. His transitions were a thing of beauty too. I can’t wait to see a whole mess of him in the cruiserweight division in the coming year.

Joshua Browns: Sweet Jeebus, that step-up tope is just amazing. I’m praying for a long Metalik/Neville feud later in 2017.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
45. Nick Jackson
Points: 1855
Number of Ballots: 29
Highest Vote: 4th Place (CMU Chips)
Last Year’s Ranking: 28th Place

Elliot Imes: All I can think of to say for Nick, other than him being part of the best tag team in the world, is that he looks so much older than Matt to me, but he's five years younger. That's it.

Photo Credit:
44. Baron Corbin
Points: 1914
Number of Ballots: 36
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Kevin Newburn)
Last Year’s Ranking: 38th Place

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
43. Kimber Lee
Points: 1925
Number of Ballots: 28
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (David Burszan, Brandon Kay, The Lady J)
Last Year’s Ranking: 45th Place

TH: Kimber Lee was not only the Princess Who Could Save Herself, but she was the ace Chikara needed. Her reign as Grand Champion had a bevy of strong matches against a variety of opponents, the best of which was against her best friend and fellow WWE signee Heidi Lovelace. Her ability to draw a crowd into her matches and get invested and fulfilled was second to none, a crucial quality for a top babyface to have in any promotion on any level.

Joshua Browns: If 2015 was the year that Lee became a champion, 2016 was the year that she finally fulfilled her destiny as the logical successor to Sara del Rey on the indies, a no-nonsense, old school ass kicker who could work with the guys as well as the ladies. It’s incredibly hard to separate my opinions about her as a wrestler from my opinions about her as a person; she’s my little girl’s favorite wrestler, and has gone out of her way time and time again to make my daughter feel special whenever she sees her at an event. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy for any wrestler to get signed to the WWE, and I’m really hoping that we’ll be seeing her on TV in a significant role sooner rather than later.

Scott Raychel: After becoming the first female holder of an independent promotion's top title at Chikara Pro, Kimber Lee went on top defend the Grand Championship in some note-worthy main events, including an emotional roller coaster with eternal best friend Heidi Lovelace. If Kimber Lee is allowed to go full Suplex Kingdom in WWE and German Suplex the hell out of her opponents, she's gonna be hot fire.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
42. Matt Jackson
Points: 1988
Number of Ballots: 30
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (CMU Chips)
Last Year’s Ranking: 26th Place

Elliot Imes: All I can think of to say for Matt, other than him being part of the best tag team in the world, is that his sideburns were a national treasure before being tragically shaved off by his wife.

Photo Credit:
41. Jack Gallagher
Points: 2006
Number of Ballots: 35
Highest Vote: 8th Place (Dirk Kessler)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: When Gallagher came over to the States for the Cruiserweight Classic, I immediately fell in love. What is this man who combines both the refined art of grappling with the helium-light sense of humor that more wrestlers should adopt and too few have about their work? I was afraid WWE would infantilize him because of his “effeminate” aura, but he remained both entertaining on a metaphysical level without losing his grasp of coherence in the ring.

Dirk Kessler: I used to dislike scientific grapplef*!#. But then I saw Jack Gallagher in the CWC and not only enjoyed it, but wanted a grapplef*!#er to prevail over a highflyer! Just please throw away that umbrella.

Butch Rosser: There's a name for the group of people who don't like Jack Gallagher, and it's al Qaeda.